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updated: 1/7/2012 3:31 PM

Smart meter battle turning nasty in Naperville

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As many as eight Naperville residents are expected to be called Monday to defend petitions they circulated to get a nonbinding referendum question concerning smart meters on the spring ballot.

The Naperville Electoral Board -- consisting of Mayor George Pradel, Councilman Doug Krause and City Clerk Pam LaFeber -- is expected to decide whether to allow the nonbinding referendum question on the March 20 ballot asking, "Shall the City of Naperville immediately and permanently stop the implementation of the $22 million smart meter project and dismantle all related equipment?"

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The Naperville Smart Meter Awareness Group submitted petitions in November to have the question on the ballot.

The city maintains the initiative is a safe upgrade to its $360 million electric network to provide more efficient, cost-effective and reliable service to customers. The plan's critics say they are concerned about the long-term health risks associated with the wireless RF meters and the safety concerns associated with connecting to a wireless network.

Naperville resident William Dawe filed an objection to the referendum petitions on Dec. 27, alleging they contain signatures from people living outside Naperville and that the proposal contains a two-part question, both of which make it invalid.

On Friday morning, the board ruled that Kevin McQuillan, the attorney representing Dawe, will be allowed to subpoena eight residents who circulated petitions that Dawe believes may have been altered. McQuillan insists the process being undertaken by the board is done "all the time" under the course of the law.

Attorney Doug Ibendahl, representing the group opposing the smart meters, said he's already convinced his clients won't get a fair hearing Monday, and he has his eyes on taking the case to Circuit Court.

The group already has filed a federal lawsuit to force the city to stop the installation of meters, which began this week.

"We're bringing in the eight circulators who comprise 14 petitions that have alterations made at some point on the petitions by someone other than the people who signed them," McQuillan said. "If after they attest the information is correct and it is later changed, then the issue becomes that certification falls and the whole document falls."

"There are petitions where there were obvious changes made," he said. "And in some cases there were changes that were then tried to be corrected later. Some of the counties are wrong. Some list the hometown as Lisle."

Ibendahl, however, said the petitions are "the cleanest and best organized" he's ever seen. As far as he is concerned the process has moved beyond a petition objection hearing to the "harassment and intimidation phase."

"These good people are going to be dragged in and have to take off work and get a baby-sitter," Ibendahl said. "Word's going to get around that they've been subpoenaed. For normal people, that's a scary thing to be dragged in here under the power of the state, and all they're going to testify to is that they've got really great petitions."

Jan. 12 is the deadline for the filing of referendum questions to be on the ballot. But Ibendahl said he's ready to begin an expedited process to get his case before the circuit court.

"Obviously we're not getting a fair hearing here. No way. I look forward to taking this up to Circuit Court," he said. "All this tells me is that there's obviously something very wrong with these smart meters that they are going to these lengths to shut people up."

Following the ruling, one Naperville Smart Meter Awareness Group board member was seen giving a version of the Nazi salute and shouting "Sieg Heil," among other things. LaFeber said she was warned by one member of the group "to get an automatic start installed on her car."

McQuillan called the threats and slurs a "slap in the face of the American way."

"There were some severe comments made back there, and that's not right," he said. "On Monday I hope we all take a step back, leave the motives and personalities out of this and deal with the law."

Later Friday afternoon Naperville Smart Meter Awareness Group board member Lisa Rooney called to distance the group from the comments.

"That is not something we support or condone," Rooney said. "As an organization we do not want to be attached to such negativity."

The hearing resumes at 10 a.m. Monday at Naperville city hall, 400 S. Eagle St. It could extend into Tuesday.

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