May 262011

The Naperville city council is very adept at appearing to listen to their constituency and then ignoring what they just heard. At times, the sound of their silence is almost deafening. It’s most evident during the Public Forum portion of the council meetings. This is the portion of the agenda when citizens who sign up prior to the meeting are allowed three minutes to present a topic and make their point. Now what’s interesting is if the topic is sensitive or something the council would rather not hear or have to deal with, the mayor will give a polite ‘thank you’ to the presenter, and the citizen retreats to their seat. It’s almost an exercise in futility for the citizen to speak in front of the council because absolutely nothing happens afterward. The Naperville city council is gifted at the art of ‘acknowledging and ignoring’ citizen comments. It’s also interesting that the keeper of the three-minute time clock cuts off speakers exactly at three minutes if the topic is ‘uncomfortable’ for the council; however if the citizen’s comments are favorable to the council, the 3-minute clock is extended. It makes you wonder if there is a silent vibrating wireless alert between the council and the timekeeper, so the timekeeper knows when to cut off the speaker. I mention ‘wireless’ because the council abundantly embraces the concept of wireless technology, especially the Naperville Smart Grid Project. For those of you not familiar with this local government project, it’s another one of those “seems like a good idea” for the Naperville city council, but not so good for the citizens of Naperville.

The Naperville city council places the needs of their constituency second to the needs of the city council. Let me give you an example. The city of Naperville will dispose of a citizens grass clippings if they bag the clippings in a special paper bag (each bag costs a couple of dollars) and affix a sticker to the bag (and the stickers cost a couple of bucks each). OK so that’s the price of doing business with the City of Naperville if a resident wants the city to haul the clippings elsewhere. Now here is the catch; if you had a few stickers left at the end of the season, the citizen could not use the sticker the following year. Citizens are required to purchase new stickers. The grass clipping stickers have an expiration date. That’s not exactly citizen-friendly.

I imagine if one of the fine citizens of Naperville presented the topic of eliminating the expiration date on grass clipping stickers to the Naperville city council, the timekeeper would ‘ring the bell’ exactly at the three-minute time limit and the mayor would politely say ‘thank you’ to the presenter and absolutely nothing would happen other than acknowledging and ignoring another Naperville citizen.

Apr 092011

During every Naperville city council meeting, there is an agenda item that allows citizens to voice their opinions about any topic of their choosing. After registering and being called up to the podium the speaker must state their name and home address. The speaker then has three minutes to convey their thoughts. This three minutes seems to start as soon as the speaker reaches the podium and mouths a single syllable. In my review of the last three Naperville city council meetings, it seems that the speakers are interrupted if what they are saying puts the council in a negative light or if the speaker is requesting something of the city (donations, review of procedures, unsafe or unwise legislation). In the below video, the speakers being cut off is highlighted and you can see that not every speaker seems pleased that they are cut off in mid-sentence or mid-thought. Imagine if the Scripts national spelling bee in Washington D.C. had a timekeeper or judge who after an incorrect letter was enunciated, in an unprofessional and disrespectful manor over-modulated the words “THE SPELLER’S TIME IS UP” or “THE SPELLER IS WRONG”. I believe a better solution to this three minute limit is to perhaps have a simple countdown clock that shows the speaker how much time they have left to speak. Naperville is facing serious budgetary concerns and it seems that the city is trying to reduce overhead (i.e. reduction of police force, reduction of city employees and replacement of city employees with electronic monitoring devices). If the Naperville city council decides they need to reduce additional staff, I believe the timekeeper could easily be replaced by a $6 digital clock which I would offer to the city as a donation. An additional idea would be for Naperville city council meetings to be like the Oscars and have an orchestra drown out the speaker.