No final decision yet on Smart Grid referendum
By Hank Beckman For The Sun January 3, 2012 10:34PM
Doug Ibendahl, left, attorney for the Smart meter awareness group, speaks during a Referendum Objection Meeting in Naperville's City Council chambers about the smart meters getting put on the ballot in March on Tuesday, January 3, 2012. | Brian Powers~Sun-Times Media
Updated: February 5, 2012 8:09AM
With time running short, the objection to the non-binding referendum question asking Naperville residents about the $22 million Smart Grid Initiative will be ruled on Friday at the earliest.
The Naperville Election Commission, consisting of Mayor George Pradel, City Clerk Pam LaFeber and the most senior member of the City Council, Doug Krause, met in Council Chambers Tuesday to hear opening arguments from Naperville Smart Meter Awareness, which supports the referendum, and the objector, Bill Dawe.
Naperville Smart Meter Awareness, long opposed to the Smart Grid based on concerns over safety, security and privacy, filed a petition in November asking that the following question be placed on the March primary ballot: “Shall the city of Naperville immediately and permanently stop the implementation of the $22 million smart meter project and dismantle all related equipment?”
Dawe, a member of Naperville for Clean Energy and Conservation, filed an objection to the question. He said it is an impermissible two-part question. He also has concerns about some of the signatures on the petition, saying some should be rejected for a variety of reasons.
State law mandates a decision by Jan. 12 if the advisory referendum is to make it on the spring ballot.
Naperville Smart Meter Awareness attorney Doug Ibendahl wasted no time asking for a dismissal of the objection, saying “a large number (of the objections) have no basis in law.” He called them “frivolous” and pointed to the Nov. 2, 2010, question on the Naperville ballot asking for voter opinions on term limits, which he said involved several different questions.
“If that language is OK, then the advisory referendum language we’re talking about here is OK,” he said.
Ibendahl argued that it was really one question, “perfectly reasonable ... it’s the same project.” Ibendahl further argued that the objection never made reference to unregistered voters.
Moreover, Ibendahl argued that Illinois case law didn’t support either the notion that illegible signatures were invalid or that circulators of a petition had to be Naperville residents.
Ibendahl called Dawe’s arguments “Hail Mary type objections” and characterized them as desperate.
“What’s the harm,” he asked. “This is an advisory referendum ... there’s some controversy about smart meters ... what’s wrong with having a discussion about it.”
Dawe’s attorney, Kevin McQuillan, sees plenty wrong with the form of the petition.
Regarding the issue of the multi-part question, McQuillan said that Ibendahl’s argument was, at best, unclear.
“It’s not clear in his response because he cites no cases,” McQuillan said of Ibendahl’s argument on the multi-part question. “Why is it not in his motion?”
McQuillan went on to say that of the 4,199 signatures collected by Naperville Smart Meter Awareness, at least 102 represented people who did not live in Naperville.
“When someone’s addresses are in Lisle or unincorporated Naperville it is clear they are not registered voters (here),” he said.
McQuillan asked for subpoenas for both voting records and 17 different people who served as circulators for the petition. He also stressed the expense to the city if the Smart Grid project is interrupted.
“These are very serious objections here,” he said.
The commission took a break to meet with the two attorneys in an attempt to narrow down the issues, but was unsuccessful.
After the break, McQuillan was directed to submit his subpoenas for records by the end of the workday Tuesday and the names of people he wanted subpoenaed by the end of the workday Wednesday.
McQuillan was further directed to submit his arguments against Ibendahl’s motion for dismissal by Thursday.
The commission will reconvene Friday at 10 a.m.
There was some discussion of the propriety of issuing the subpoenas.
Krause said the burden of proof should be on the objector instead of the 17 people he wanted to subpoena.
Ibendahl said that McQuillan didn’t do a very good job of submitting his objections and now wanted to put residents under the force of law.
City Attorney Margo Ely asked McQuillan how many subpoenas were about registered voter issues as opposed to changes made on the petitions.
“They go to both,” he said.
After the meeting, Dawe said the Smart Grid Initiative would “reduce the amount of energy used” in the city and stressed his complete support for the project.
McQuillan spoke of the need for the process to be transparent.
“If you’re going to put the taxpayers and the city through this referendum you need to do it right,” he said.
Naperville Smart Meter Awareness members noted that one City Council member, Steve Chirico, was in favor of the question being on the ballot.
Indeed, Chirico is in favor of ballot access, but he added a caveat.
“If everything was done properly, absolutely it should be on the ballot,” he said when contacted later.