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Article updated: 2/6/2013 5:04 AM

Residents unhappy with smart meter related arrests

By Justin Kmitch

Loud and frequent calls for Naperville City Manager Doug Krieger's head on a platter and Police Chief Bob Marshall to turn in his badge and gun went loudly unanswered Tuesday night.

Naperville residents crowded Tuesday night's city council meeting to voice their displeasure with the recent arrests of two women who stood in the way of crews attempting to install wireless, electronic smart meters on their homes on Jan. 23.

Malia "Kim" Bendis of the 2200 block of Mercer Court was charged with attempted eavesdropping and resisting a peace officer, both misdemeanors.

Jennifer Stahl of the 1400 block of Westglen Drive, received two ordinance violation citations for interfering with a police officer and preventing access to customer premises.

Marshall said Tuesday that police have been escorting installation crews in recent weeks in response to threats crew members have received from unhappy homeowners. He stood by the arrests Tuesday night and called the situation "unfortunate."

Supporters of the two women and many members of the Naperville Smart Meter Awareness Group, which has a federal lawsuit pending against the city regarding their beliefs that the wireless meters will affect health, security and privacy, had other words for it.

"I care about the shameless abuse of power that was demonstrated by the city manager, city employees and members of our police department," said resident and city council candidate Jo Malik. "Arresting mothers was absurd and abusive. You are tyrants and self-serving autocrats."

Resident Dianne Ciantbrone called for the city to dismiss the charges against the women and argued the arrests "sullied the reputation and called into question the actions of our police force."

Throughout the meeting, city hall was flanked by no fewer than nine police officers and Mayor George Pradel had to call for order on more than one occasion. After one particular outburst, he called for a recess until many of those upset "could control" themselves.

Tim Messer, a supporter of the city's smart grid initiative, said he too, was "disappointed with how the city conducted itself."

"The arrests were an unnecessary show of force," he said. "I've been concerned for a while about the lack of civil discourse related to the smart grid project. I believe the city has only added fuel to the fire by handcuffing two women and placing them in squad cars."

Krieger declined to comment on the loud and repetitive calls for his firing or resignation but said he still stands behind the decision.

"We absolutely would have preferred if the arrests were not necessary but we have every right to access and maintain our own equipment," he said. "For years and years we've had meter-readers walk through those individuals' backyards and there's never been an issue."

The city has now installed smart meters on more than 57,000 homes and is about 99 percent completed. Officials have said the project will make the city's electric system more reliable and cost efficient.

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