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August 27, 2014 / jeffnward

Beware the dreaded mayoral “Edifice Complex”

Back when I used to toil for the papers and Patch, on occasion, we’d discuss a malady known as “The Municipal Mindset.” It’s a disease that primarily afflicts city councils and the symptoms always start with statements like, “We have to bring this fee in line with other municipalities,” or “We’re losing money to the Internet.”

Basically, it’s an affliction in which mayors and aldermen start believing they’re entitled to our money by sheer virtue of the fact they’re breathing.

But as bad as the Municipal Mindset is, there’s another ailment that’s far worse – the “Edifice Complex” – also known as “Compulsive Legacy Building.” Thankfully, it tends to affect only long-serving mayors in small to medium cities with the occasional four term alderman thrown in for good measure.

illinois_coal_plantPlease note that, the use of the word “edifice,” doesn’t necessarily mean the illness has to involve buildings. It can be a concept, an initiative, or some other kind of grand scheme. But the one thing you can count on is, the longer they serve, the worse it gets.

If you don’t believe me, then all I ask you is to turn your piercing gaze towards two central Kane County towns. The first is Batavia where Mayor Jeff Schielke is well into his ninth term, and then there’s Geneva, where Mayor Kevin Burns is currently working on his fourth.

And both of these municipalities fell for the Peabody Energy Co. sales pitch by buying into the Prairie State Energy Campus under the guise of the Northern Illinois Municipal Energy Association. It’s a very long story that we’ve already covered here, the end result of which is, while most folks are paying about 50 bucks a megawatt hour, Genevans and Batavians are shelling out $70.00.

In an almost perfect correlation to the length of their mayoral tenures, both cities bought into this scheme to varying degrees. So while Genevans are certainly feeling the power pinch, Batavia felt the need to dip into their electrical reserves, implement a sales tax hike, and raise their electrical rates by 6.5 percent both this year and next.

But one Batavian decided to strike back! Fed up with his $1,000 electric bills, like a Jedi knight giving the Empire what for, businessman Joe Marconi just filed a class action lawsuit against the consultants who told our two cities this southern Illinois coal plant was the best thing since sliced bread.

(For more details on the lawsuit, the Daily Herald covered it pretty well. Or if you live in Batavia and want to sign on please go here.)

And he may be onto something here because one of those “experts” subsequently went on to become the chairman of the Prairie State Generating management committee. No conflict there!

But while I love Joe’s chutzpah and can’t wait until the up-to-now confidential contracts come out in discovery, he inexplicably let the City of Batavia off the hook. Both Geneva and Batavia are only listed as respondents in the suit.

Of the Batavia City Council, Marconi said, “They were misled,” while another Batavia resident, who’s gone over Prairie State with a fine tooth comb added, “I don’t think our cities did anything bad. I think they got snookered.”

Wait a minute – not so fast!

If Peabody’s pitch was so irresistible, why were Geneva and Batavia the only two Kane County towns foolish enough to sign on? Should it be any surprise that it involves two of the longest serving mayors?

So what we really have here are two mayors who thought they could bolster their legacy by beating the market. The problem with that theory is, if any mayor (or city council) really could beat the market, then trust me, they wouldn’t be wasting their time at city hall.

With visions of constituents carrying them down Route 31 on their shoulders for their foresight, instead of paying heed to the general municipal movement towards electrical aggregation, these guys decided to go it alone and convince their respective aldermen to sign onto a long term power deal that hasn’t turned out too well.

But there is a remedy.

What all of the affected towns really oughtta be doing is, admit they were wrong, band together, and do their damndest to get out of this “deal” based on a litany of misrepresentations, not the least of which is selling all but 5 percent of the risk after Peabody promised to retain a majority stake in the project.

But not only are Burns and Schielke letting Mr. Marconi do all the heavy lifting, they’re actually defending this indefensible boondoggle!

Just like it was with so many Bernie Madoff clients, they don’t want to have to admit they were suckered because that would severely damage their legacy. And, of course, their reputations are far more important than their citizens’ fiscal health.

The lesson here goes far beyond this tale of two cities. This is why, with the exception of larger municipalities with all their checks and balances, no mayor should serve for more than 12 years. If you can’t get it done in a decade, then it’s time to hand the baton to someone else.

And the great thing is, we don’t need term limits to ensure that the Edifice Complex doesn’t have time to take hold either. All you have to do is vote ‘em out.

August 26, 2014 / jeffnward

Violence isn’t arbitrary!

Even more ironically, if you do carry a gun, you’re 4.5 times more likely to be shot during an assault and 4 times more likely to die in the process. If you’re a woman, you’re six times more likely to be shot and killed by your boyfriend or husband rather than some indiscriminate stranger.

As tragic as school shootings are, your child stands just a one in one million chance of perishing in one. The odds of anyone dying in a public mass shooting are even longer at 1 in 384,000 or .000003 percent.

To put that in perspective, you have a far greater chance of being struck by lightning (1 in 280,000), dying from a hornet, wasp, or bee sting (1 in 80,000), or shedding the mortal coil in an asteroid apocalypse (1 in 12,000).

Case in point!

A few weeks ago we covered how the press covered the murder of an 85 year-old East Dundee woman. The papers made it sound like there was a rabid killer on the loose, the police did nothing to reassure the residents, and the neighbors quickly got together to discuss just how they might put a damper on this kind of thing.

Richard Schmelzer awaits extradition to Illinois for the murder of his grandmother, East Dundee resident Mildred Darrington

Richard Schmelzer awaits extradition to Illinois for the murder of his grandmother, East Dundee resident Mildred Darrington

Meanwhile we theorized that, given the specific circumstances, the murderer was likely a family member who spontaneously stabbed the victim during an argument – probably over money.

And yesterday (8/25), the elderly woman’s grandson was picked up and charged with the crime. He’s being held in a Texas jail pending extradition. Whether we like it or not, if you lump enough human beings together, we tend to get rather predictable.

While there’s certainly something to be said for an occasional better safe than sorry stance, whenever we react primarily from a place of mindless fear, you can bet on courting a host of unintended consequences.

In this case, our fixation on “random” violence has lead to an over-armed society, the militarization of the police, the frequent demonization of our fellowman, and the loss of humanity that naturally occurs when you start living in the shadow of the Sword of Damocles.

The key to unraveling this downward spiral is us. As long as there’s something in it for the press and police, they’re not going to change. So it’s up to us to stop buying into the patently false assumption that random violent predators – intent on making us their next target – pervade our society.

Because they don’t!

August 25, 2014 / jeffnward

Another View: Todd Martin on the militarization of the police

While I have serious concerns about a Militarized police force, our local elected and officials & the public seem to broadly support SWAT style police equipment & training.

When I raised the issue of Elgin’s purchase of our armored troop transport (complete with gun turrets), the reply at the time was that it is to protect people and is not an offensive weapon, The assumption is that SWAT will only be used against the bad guys and for hostage situations. No one took my objection seriously. I wasn’t the only one who reached out, but we were a small minority opinion. 

Todd Martin

Todd Martin

However, as we see in Ferguson, the local police (among other things) put a man with a MACHINE GUN on top of an armored vehicle to stop local residents from walking the streets. Why? Did they feel the protestors needed to be shot down en masse if they got too close? Did they feel they just needed to scare them? Did they feel that threatened by unarmed civilians? Do you think the residents of Ferguson really wanted that?

Jeff, your SWAT photo for Antioch (population 14000) shows 14 SWAT officers with M16 assault rifles (30 round clips). How many SWAT officers do they need to address a hostage situation? Why do they need to wear camouflage? If they need a sniper, why not a bolt action rifle. Why 14 snipers instead of 1 or 2? The Posse Comitatus Act was passed to keep us from Army occupation. If the Police are given Army equipment, how are they any different?

We do have great Police Chief. Chief Swoboda runs a great police force. Our crime rate is low and we have few complaints. However, it is not perfect. Our Elgin police force shares some of the same problems which plague Ferguson. We have officers who mostly live outside the City. Our police officers (especially the higher ranks) are much less diverse than our community. We don’t have much in the way of foot patrols or bike patrols (community policing), they mostly work out of cars (and lately it seems tending toward BIG SUV’s). Selective “targeted” enforcement to drive out the “bad apples” carries risks of discrimination and injustice. Some of these issues are being worked on (they’re lowering the entrance requirements) and some are not. There are community relations risks which must be managed every day.

It is easy for people to think Ferguson is fundamentally different than us. That our police officers are fundamentally better. That Elgin residents would never take to the streets and get stirred up enough to riot. And if they did, we need SWAT to tear gas Elginites because only the “bad guys” would be out on the street after “curfew”. I don’t think that way. We’re not any better human beings. Unless what is “Normal” for local police changes, we’re rolling the dice each time something happens. In my view, tear gas should never be used for crowd control. Machine guns have no place in local police enforcement. Police should be engaged with the community, not garbed up like a Marine.

August 25, 2014 / jeffnward

It’s not about the Silly Putty

The one thing the ancillary players – those folks who love to flit around the political periphery like a hoard of flies – long for more than anything else in this existence is relevance. Their fear of the failure they’ve courted all their lives drives them to do whatever it takes to become part of the story.

But as is always the case whenever you seek that kind of solace outside yourself, like it is with any drug addict, they’ll sacrifice anything – their relationships, principles, and dignity – just to get their next fix.

It’s not unlike observing a group of middle school girls as their allegiances change on an hourly basis. And this time they’ve managed to temporarily turn the conversation around to the subject of Silly Putty  silly putty

If you recall, at one of the variety of regular meetings, the County Chairman chastised the Coroner for requesting a budgetary increase after he’d spent $1,200 on Silly Putty giveaways. The Coroner responded by claiming that passing out the putty was an opportunity to rehabilitate his office’s longsuffering image.

All I can say is, that certainly was an interesting choice.

To be fair, it is important to note that the virtually every single elected official’s office regularly hands out some sort of trinket to folks who pay them a visit or attend an event.

These items are typically something along the lines of pens, stickers or candy and, what so many interested people seem to be missing is, since it could be construed as campaigning, most of the countywide electeds pay for that stuff out of their own pockets.

Would I have brought up the Silly Putty thing? Despite the vast humorous potential involved – No! Because it only gives the ancillary players another opportunity to wade in, believe they’re still relevant, and distract the rest of us (including a local newspaper) from what’s really important.

And here it is!

While it’s certainly not unusual for a politician to pound his fist on the podium while swearing he will never go over budget until he does, it is rare for an elected official to sign a document stating he’ll keep his budget flat for the next three years and then to ignore it as soon as it suits him.

But even in that peculiar political circumstance, it’s the voters who will ultimately decide if his decision ignites any consequences.

This is the story I fear that’s getting lost in all the Silly Putty discussion silliness. For a former sheriff’s deputy to knowingly undermine any number of Kane County court cases by cavalierly announcing that his failure to label a light switch has potentially corrupted a host of refrigerated evidence, is about as unconscionable as it gets. And for Russell to then blame that inexcusable lapse on anyone but himself makes an already bad situation even worse.

You wanna know what the really sad thing is in all of this ? Russell actually thinks the ancillary players currently rushing to his defense are friends who are fully behind him when the truth is, they’re only out to “get” Chairman Lauzen.

Again, in their compulsive quest for any kind of relevance, they’ll use any willing elected official or “ammunition” like Silly Putty to draw attention to themselves. Did you ever notice how these folks always seem to be against someone? What better way to make yourself feel more important than to relentlessly rail against the leader?

The real irony here is, the people and peers who’ve been offering Russell constructive criticism all along are the ones who truly have his best interest in mind.

Not only do I have nothing against the Coroner, but I would love to see he – and all elected officials – succeed. There’s something to be said for Russell who, having lost a heartbreaking race for Sheriff, managed to come back and win his next election.

But what the Coroner will shortly see is, after consistently encouraging him to make some really bad decisions that only serve their narrow purpose, as soon as he outlives his usefulness, the ancillary players with whom he’s thrown his current lot will drop him faster than Larry King can dump another wife.

So when it comes to Silly Putty and those eternally shrieking ancillary players, I’d like to leave you with something Bill Shakespeare once said. Please pay particular attention to the last sentence:

“To-morrow, and to-morrow, and to-morrow,
Creeps in this petty pace from day to day,
To the last syllable of recorded time;
And all our yesterdays have lighted fools
The way to dusty death. Out, out, brief candle!
Life’s but a walking shadow, a poor player,
That struts and frets his hour upon the stage,
And then is heard no more. It is a tale
Told by an idiot, full of sound and fury,
Signifying nothing.”

August 22, 2014 / jeffnward

Geneva’s getting ready for the riots!

Having recently written a column on the militarization of our police departments in which I described my utter shock and awe at the lack of a conservative response to this clear and present danger to our personal freedoms, I got to thinking.

And you all know that’s always a dangerous proposition.

The question was, of all Kane County municipalities, excluding the truly smaller towns like Maple Park or Pingree Grove and the larger ones like Elgin and Aurora, which would folks likely vote to be the safest? But before I managed to complete that thought, the word “Geneva” leapt into my consciousness faster than Rahm Emanuel’s approval rating could plummet.

C’mon! You can bet your sweet bippie that any city consisting of 93 percent white folks with a median age of 42 ain’t gonna have much going on. This is a town that rolls up the sidewalks at 9 p.m. on Saturdays and still considers Swedish Days to be the pinnacle of excitement.

It may be true that my fair city just experienced its first murder in nearly 40 years, but whenever one spouse kills another it really doesn’t count because I’m surprised that kind of thing doesn’t happen far more often.

Given all the grief I give my wife combined with that million dollar life insurance policy, the fact I’m still alive is a constant source of utter amazement. But I digress.

So with the most sedate city in Kane County question settled, in an effort to test just how pervasive the spread of surplus military equipment might be, I “asked” the Geneva Police to provide me with a list of any such items above and beyond the sidearm and Kevlar vest the officers generally wear.

Despite the GPD’s widespread reputation for harboring an “us against them” mentality, and as cynical as I can sometimes be, I firmly believed this request would bear no fruit. Had that been the case, I would’ve dutifully noted it here.

But much to my surprise and ultimate chagrin, there was a result! Between 1996 and 2000, the GPD availed themselves of the military surplus program by acquiring 35 separate items consisting mostly of helmets with some body armor thrown in for good measure.

riot gear

While it’s certainly a far cry from procuring an MRAP or Apache helicopter, why in the world would the GPD need to start stocking up on riot gear?

I suppose the ten black folks in town could shut down a side street, or those feisty little old ladies could get a little crazy if the Little Traveler ever shut down, or Batavia could always invade, but beyond those dubious possibilities, why does a police department that’s seen one murder in 40 years need any surplus military equipment whatsoever?

We don’t get hit with earthquakes, wildfires or hurricanes either. The worst natural disaster we Midwesterners can expect is a tornado whose widespread destructive power pales in comparison to the aforementioned catastrophes.

Am I really that worried that the GPD obtained a few defensive toys? No! But the fact they made the effort to get them – before 9/11 – evinces a mindset in which their command hierarchy believes they need to be prepared for a time that it would come down to us versus them.

So here’s what I want you to do. Send a simple single sentence email FOIA request to your own local police department requesting a list of items they’ve obtained under the Department of Defense 1033 program. And I want you to do this for two reasons.

First, it lets them know you’re watching, which is especially critical when you consider the accelerating deterioration of local newspaper reporting. Not only that, abut his kind of voyeuristic tendency may just get them to reconsider both current and future acquisitions.

And second is, the list you receive, if there is one, will tell you far more about your police force than any policy manual, press release or website ever could. You might just discover exactly who they plan to serve and protect.

August 21, 2014 / jeffnward

Here’s the August 21, 2014 edition of Left, Right and You!

First I want to thank Jeff Meyer for taking time out of his busy schedule to fill in for the vacationing Larry Jones. If you ask me, I think he acquitted himself quite well! I can’t wait for that LR&Y debate between he and Anna Moeller.

With that stipulation entered into the record, both Jeff and I want to offer a hearty thank you to veteran political Tribune reporter Rick Pearson for spending virtually the whole show with us. Not only was it a thrill to have him on, but any reporter who wants the ammunition to stave off the current newspaper decline and take their profession to the next level really needs to listen to this interview.

pearson2Again, I want my newspaper reporters to be smarter than me and Rick’s insights were fascinating! Don’t forget to listen to him on Sunday Spin every Sunday from 7 to 9 a.m. on WGN AM720 radio.

I’m looking forward to Larry Jones being back next week and having you back with us as well!

August 21, 2014 / jeffnward

Another great Festival Park concert!

So after delving into out respective record collections and listening to Deep Purple all week, the Sheriff and I were almost giddy with excitement as we headed up to Elgin’s Festival Park to finally bear witness to one of rock’s seminal groups for the very first time.

But before we go there, almost more fascinating than the concert itself, was having the opportunity to walk through a crowd with Pat Perez.

You see, after eight long years in office, most elected officials would rather furtively dart down dark alleyways than have to face the torches and pitchforks of their perennially discontented constituents. But not in this case!

Everybody loves the Sheriff and everyone wants to shake his hand. And that kind of electoral adulation is especially difficult to come by for a politician whose raison d’etre is law enforcement.

I bet Pat could’ve given Deep Purple a real run for their popularity money.

Then The Orchestra took the stage right on time and knocked out some dead on renditions of those amazing ELO hits we’d all almost forgotten about. After so many years, songs like Do Ya, Telephone Line, All Over the World and Turn Stone, took on the fervor and transcendence of really good gospel music.

It certainly brought me back to those Evanston Township High School days where I’d pedal that bike home as fast as I could just to blast A New World Record on my father’s reasonably competent stereo system.

Then, after a brief intermission, it was on to the headliners. And let me tell ya, Deep Purple did not disappoint. There may be a certain incongruity to watching aging rock ‘n rollers ply their trade (and to be aging right along with them!), but Steve Morse, Ian Paice, Roger Glover, Ian Gillan and Don Airey can still bring it!

The Orchestra

When you see some of those groups from our collective youth in concert, they seem to simply be going through the motions, but not Deep Purple. It was abundantly clear they were having a lot of fun on that stage and that dynamic created a wonderful feedback loop in which the band feeds the audience and, in turn, the audience feeds the band.

I don’t think Steve Morse stopped smiling for the entire set. There’s certainly something to be said for doing what you love.

Ah! But when the first strains of the first riff every guitarist learns to play blasted across the anticipating park, the crowd went nuts! Can it possibly get any more rock ‘n roll than Smoke on the Water?

And people showed up to see ‘em. There had to be at least 5 to 6,000 paying fans and an untold number more watching from various vantage points around Festival Park. It’s truly gratifying to be able to say that Elgin was the place to be last night.

To make the evening even better, perhaps there’s some extra-dimensional quantum magic involved, but once again, the Elgin Police got the exiting throng on their way home in record time.

But here’s the best thing about it. On a planet where 80 percent of the people have nothing better to do than to try their best to bring you down, this concert sent our collective spirits soaring. Sadly, these days, those kind of uplifting experiences are too few and far between.

So I want to thank the Grand Victoria’s Jim Thomason and Suzanne Phillips, Mayor Kaptain and the Elgin City Council, and promoter Ron Onesti for making this summer a lot better than I thought it would be.

I can’t wait to see who’s coming to Festival Park next year!


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