Testimony begins in Naperville Smart Meter referendum case

 
 
Updated 1/9/2012 7:04 PM

After nearly six hours of testimony from eight witnesses Monday, the Naperville Electoral Board is expected to decide today whether to allow an advisory referendum question on the March 20 ballot concerning the future of the city's controversial smart meter program.

A residents' group that opposes the use of such wireless meters wants to ask voters, "Shall the City of Naperville immediately and permanently stop the implementation of the $22 million smart meter project and dismantle all related equipment?"

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

The city started to install the meters last week.

City officials maintain the initiative is a safe upgrade to its $360 million electric network to provide more efficient and cost-effective and reliable service to customers. 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.

The electoral board -- consisting of Mayor George Pradel, Councilman Doug Krause and City Clerk Pam LaFeber -- became involved when 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.

His attorney, Kevin McQuillan, insists all petitions altered after the certification process or found to have an incorrect address should be rendered invalid.

McQuillan, who said he has taken the case pro bono as part of his firm's annual charity work, said he's confident the board will find there are more than 450 invalid signatures -- enough, he believes, to have the question kept off the ballot.

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"It's obvious in these petitions that if someone has written down Aurora, Lisle, Downers Grove or Wheaton, they don't live in the city of Naperville," he said.

Naperville resident Gerard Schilling was one of the circulators whose petitions are in question due to at least one signature belonging to a Lisle resident.

He said it was an honest mistake on one line that should not cause the rest of his petitions to be voided.

"I obviously missed that. Had I noticed it, I would have lined them out," he testified Monday. "I would certify that I made an error in allowing or not catching that. Everybody else on that page is a registered voter, as far as I know, based on what they said. And to disenfranchise the other 10 or 12 on that page would be a travesty."

Naperville Smart Meter Awareness Board Member Tom Glass also is alleged to be responsible for several petitions that had incomplete county designations. In several cases, people signed their ZIP code rather than county. Some corrected the mistake immediately, while Glass said he corrected others later. But he couldn't remember which or how many.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

"I spoke with literally hundreds of people during the course of going around and asking people to sign petitions. This is one of many so for me to recall the specific instance of one of these would be really difficult for me to say," he said.

McQuillan said Monday's testimony was productive for his client's case and expects today's proceedings will be speedier.

"It's unfortunate for the witnesses that this has to be a big drama and a big show on behalf of the proponents," McQuillan said. "And I don't think that's fair for the witnesses,"

Attorney Doug Ibendahl, who represents the anti-smart meter group, made dozens of objections throughout the day and continued to lobby the board, unsuccessfully, to dismiss the case.

"I don't know why we're here. This was the biggest waste of taxpayer dollars since ... smart meter," he said. "(McQuillan's) little fishing expedition came up completely empty, just as expected and we'll sit through it again tomorrow."

McQuillan said he intends to question Naperville Smart Meter Awareness group Secretary Jennifer Stahl, President Kim Bendis and others before wrapping up his case.

The electoral board will continue the hearing at 1 p.m. today in the council chambers of the Naperville Municipal Center, 400 S. Eagle St.

Case: Electoral board to decide today whether allow question on ballot

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