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.

Mar 042011

If the open forum portion of the Naperville City Council meeting held March 1, 2011 would have been a heavy weight boxing match, it would have been a victory by TKO for the Naperville Citizens who oppose the Smart Grid project.

The only thing that saved the Naperville City Council from utter defeat and embarrassment was the “bell”; the three minute limitation rule which allows a citizen to state his or her case within three minutes. The City Council has a time keeper to “ring the bell” on a citizen’s presentation, thereby shutting him down and giving the Council a chance to regain their composure after getting pummeled with facts and outstanding questions that they can’t seem answer with confidence.

Typically citizens approach the podium with ‘hat in hand’ hoping not to get verbally pounded the Panel of 11 (8 Council members, the Mayor, City Manager, and City Attorney). So often presenters become human piñata’s for the Council, but not this night. All ten presenters made compelling points against continuing the Smart Grid project which is becoming a fiasco.

The most convincing, forceful, persuasive, and gripping presentation of the evening came for Naperville Citizen James Rooney, who in just a matter of a few minutes presented his credentials, facts, and pin-point questions to the Council. You could almost see the Council members shrinking in their seats, beads of sweet appearing on their foreheads, and looking elsewhere to others on the Panel of 11 and staff members for relief. It finally came from the time keeper, but not before Council members were back peddling and deflecting. Given another few minutes, the Naperville City Council would not lost by a TKO, they would have lost been a convincing knock out. Take a look at the interaction between Naperville citizen James Rooney and the Naperville City Council.

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This was followed by outstanding presentations again from Naperville citizens David Bendis and Lisa Rooney.

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The final exclamation point to the Citizens’ domination of the City Council came from Naperville Citizen Kim Bendis. Take note that at the end of her excellent presentation, when spontaneous applause respectfully erupts, Mayor pro tem Grant Wehrli loses his composure when he has to resort to pounding his gavel and nearly shouting that the citizens were utilizing “a method of intimidation” to those who may be “advocates of the Smart Grid”.
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Well excuse us Councilman Wehrli, but of the last 23 citizens to express their opinion about the Smart Grid, not one citizen has spoken in favor of the project. If this was such a phenomenal concept, why would the Naperville City Council have to spend thousands and thousands of taxpayer dollars on PR firms especially when it was reported November 23, 2010 that Councilman Fieseler stated “Saying the Smart Grid shouldn’t be in Naperville is like saying the City shouldn’t use the Internet. We’re not going to try to change people’s minds.” This came at the same time that City Manager Doug Krieger said, “The issues are not with technology, because the technology works.” It appears Doug Krieger must have stayed at a Holiday Inn Express, because we didn’t know he was an expert on the topic.

That’s part of what make this whole debacle a fiasco. The Citizens of Naperville hear the technology works and the project is proudly moving forward. Then we hear that they are still investigating, and it may not move forward. We are getting different stories from the Naperville City Council not only from different people, but from the same people.

Maybe they have come to realize that their legacy hangs on this decision, and no matter which way they go, they lose. Either they stop the project and look like fools who have wasted taxpayer money, or they move forward with the project and look like industrial strength fools when it unravels down the road.