Some subpoenas OK’d at smart meter hearing
By Hank Beckman For The Sun January 6, 2012 5:02PM
Kevin McQuillan, who is representing the petition objector Bill Dawe, voices his response during the Tuesday hearing concerning the move to put an advisory referendum on the Smart Grid Initiative on the March ballot in Naperville. | Brian Powers~Sun-Times Media
Updated: February 10, 2012 8:28AM
The Naperville Electoral Board Friday granted an objector’s request to issue subpoenas for circulators of a petition in support of a non-binding referendum question on halting the Naperville Smart Grid Initiative.
The ruling infuriated supporters of the petition.
“There must be something majorly wrong with these smart meters,” Doug Ibendahl, attorney for Naperville Smart Meter Awareness, said after the board’s unanimous vote that the objector, Bill Dawe, could indeed question circulators about possible irregularities in the petition.
“This is good news for us,” Ibendahl said. “I’ve never seen petitions this clean.”
Citing safety and privacy concerns, Naperville Smart Meter Awareness has long objected to the $22 million project that will put smart meters in 57,000 homes and businesses across the city. The city has said that Smart Grid is a needed upgrade to Naperville’s electrical system.
The group filed their petition for the referendum in November. Dawe, a board member of Naperville for Clean Energy and Conservation, issued a formal objection to it Dec. 27.
“This is no longer an objection hearing,” Ibendahl said, stressing that the subpoenas would discourage good citizens from becoming involved in local government. “It’s officially moved into harassment.”
Naperville Smart Meter Awareness President Kim Bendis echoed Ibendahl’s sentiments.
“This is outrageous,” she said. “It just shows there is something to hide.”
The board granted another request to subpoena election records, but rejected subpoenas for those who notarized the petitions.
At the initial hearing Jan. 3, Ibendahl had filed for a dismissal of the objection. Part of his motion was granted when the board ruled that state law did not support Dawe objecting to circulators of the petition not being Naperville residents.
But the matter of whether the referendum includes an impermissible two-part question is still pending.
Dawe’s attorney, Kevin McQuillan, stressed that by asking whether the city shall not only stop the installation of smart meters, but also dismantle all related equipment, the question violated the rights of people who might want to answer only one of the questions.
McQuillan sees nothing out of the ordinary in the subpoenas.
“It’s not unusual for circulators to appear before electoral boards,” he said. “The practice is what protects the integrity of the political process.”
The subpoenas for election records primarily focus on trying to verify addresses and that those who signed the petition for the referendum are registered voters.
The circulators of the petition themselves will be questioned on any alterations made to the petitions and when they were made.
Tom Glass, one of the circulators subpoenaed, had some questions of his own about the relationship between Dawe and city officials.
“What if the petition was modified by whoever gave it to your client,” he asked McQuillan after the hearing was adjourned for the day.
McQuillan expressed disbelief that Glass had even asked the question.
“Either the petitions are valid or they are not,” he said, stressing that any such questions could be addressed when the records are examined.
Glass filed a Freedom of Information Act request for “any and all communications by and between” city officials and West Monroe Partners concerning the referendum petitions and the objection.
“Who’s paying for (Dawe’s) legal fees,” Glass asked.
West Monroe Partners is a Chicago consulting firm the city hired to provide public relations expertise on the Smart Grid Initiative.
Glass said he is not happy that the city won’t respond to his FOIA request until Jan. 12, the same date that a decision has to be made on putting the referendum question on the March ballot.
But City Clerk Pam LaFeber denied any impropriety.
“There are multiple departments involved,” LaFeber said. “We’re trying to get it to them.”
The hearing will reconvene at 10 a.m. Monday at the Municipal Center.
, 400 S. Eagle St.