Naperville board to decide referendum fate Thursday

Updated 1/10/2012 6:19 PM

Naperville's three-person electoral board is expected to rule Thursday on whether to allow an advisory referendum on the March 20 ballot aimed at scuttling 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?"


But another resident, William Dawe, is challenging the validity of the petitions that were filed to put the question on the ballot.

The board -- Mayor George Pradel, Councilman Doug Krause and City Clerk Pam LaFeber -- has heard arguments from both sides for several days and rejected many of Dawe's challenges. But a key question remains about the legitimacy of hundreds of the signatures collected by referendum supporters.

Attorney Kevin McQuillan, representing Dawe, said he reviewed DuPage County voter registration records and believes as many as 519 of those signatures should be discounted.

If the electoral board agrees, referendum supporters would fall about 78 signatures short of the 3,768 they need from registered Naperville voters. Right now supporters have a 441-signature cushion.

"DuPage County alone came back with 460 lines on the petition and said there are no registered voters at those addresses. So right there, this is over because 441 is the magic number. There were also 30 additional people who lived in unincorporated areas so we're up to 490 (invalid signatures) now," McQuillan said. "I'm confident (the electoral board) is going to find they don't have the required number of signatures of registered Naperville voters to put this thing forward."

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The remaining 29 signatures being contested allegedly don't match voter registration cards and their validity also will be determined by the board.

City attorney Margo Ely said board members will independently review all 519 disputed signatures before 1 p.m. Thursday and be prepared to render a decision at that time.

Attorneys for both sides have indicated the case is likely to advance to circuit court no matter which way the panel rules.

During Tuesday's hearing, board members dismissed Dawe's assertion the referendum proposal is invalid because the question is in two parts. They also dismissed Dawe's objection relating to the altering of hometowns and counties written on the petitions.

"The only issue that is left for the board ... primarily relates to whether there are a sufficient number of signatures from registered voters to qualify this item for the ballot. The law is very clear about the number of signatures required for an advisory referendum," Ely said. "The parties don't dispute the number that's required. The board admitted the official records from the election authorities, so all of the information is here."

Attorney Doug Ibendahl, who represents the Naperville Smart Meter Awareness Group, has until noon today to file a written response to McQuillan's position regarding the petitions.


"I don't know what else to say at this point," Ibendahl said following Tuesday's proceedings. "These are good petitions and this question deserves to go on the ballot. It's up to the board now."

The long-running dispute centers on the installation of wireless smart meters that began last week.

The city maintains the initiative is a safe upgrade to its $300 million electric network to provide more efficient, cost-effective and reliable service to customers. Critics, however, 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.

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