Geneva! You have to keep the power on!

Geneva! You have to keep the power on!

If it weren’t for electricity we’d all be watching TV by candlelight. – George Goebel

I’d really rather not write this column because I genuinely believe that Geneva Public Works Director, Rich Babica, and Electric Utility chief, Aaron Holton, are reasonable men who take great pride in their work. They also harbor that too-rare public sector penchant for admitting when the City could do better.

It’s equally important to note that neither gentlemen make policy nor do they set municipal priorities. Those decisions fall to the city council, Mayor Kevin Burns, and particularly City Manager Stephanie Dawkins. The best Rich and Aaron can do is make their bosses aware of any issues in hopes that they’ll allocate funds to address them.

But despite my reticence, this story demands coverage because the only effective way to “encourage” the mayor and city manager to make this power problem a priority is if they’re regularly reminded of its persistent failures. Then, when prospective new residents inevitably Google “Geneva, IL” The First Ward’s columns will be right there at the top.

Sadly, after lauding a vast Geneva electric utility performance improvement just a few years ago, we’re seemingly back to square one.

To wit, we west siders experienced four 30-second power outages in the last five days. I realize that ranks right there among your average First World problems, but it doesn’t make it any less of a hassle. Every time the power goes out it means going on the “house tour” to turn on air filters, reset clocks, and restart computers, Wi-Fi, and streaming devices.

That’s if they actually do restart, too. These stop-and-go outages tend to destroy today’s ubiquitously fragile electronic devices. Thankfully, all we lost this time was one smart bulb, just a ten-dollar loss, but what do you think would happen if I filed a claim with the City?

Granted, we just went through a bit of a heatwave, but despite climate change’s encroaching effects, it certainly wasn’t anything to make the folks write home. We didn’t even come close to the triple digit temps in places like California, Idaho, and Pennsylvania, and when the power went out on Sunday, it was a rather enjoyable 74 degrees.

Prior to the current failure festivities, we endured a series of eight consecutive one minute on/off outages at 1:30 a.m. on an early storm-free June morning. That entirely new phenomenon was particularly fascinating in that every Alexa device and appliance roared back to life every two minutes only to become dormant again, a process repeated for the next 20 minutes. To say my wife was unamused by being forced to get up at that hour and unplug those annoying devices would be the most massive of understatements.

And every red-blooded American husband knows just how much fun it is to deal with a sleep-deprived wife. I’d rather have to listen to the Mayor slur his words at another Christmas event.

Thankfully we didn’t lose anything that round, but I attribute our good luck to our expansive use of surge protectors.

As previously noted, my residentials travels have added up to six apartments and four single family homes and I’ve never experienced this consistent level of outages in 45 years of living on my own.

It’s not that I begrudge the Geneva Electric Utility for being recognized for their hard work, but considering what we’ve endured the last few years, it’s baffling that they just won another American Public Utility Association award for “exceptional electric reliability.”

That begs the question, if we’re the scion of power dependability, then what the hell is going on in all those other municipalities? Though, if Batavia is any indication, there might be something to that award.

Because as bad as Geneva is, as we’ve already discussed at length, with their higher electric rates, Batavia is far worse. Here’s yet another example of what I speak. Shortly after publishing that column, Batavian Jill Rempert posted the following on social media:

Has anyone else experienced the flickering of lights and other electronics acting up last night and again tonight? This is ridiculous. Our whirlpool is now broken. Our washing machine blew out. All the lights were flickering like crazy. We had an issue a few months ago and I called Batavia.  They admitted fault and told me they filed an insurance claim. Then their insurance company called us to say they’re not responsible. Too bad for us!

So, after the City admits fault and tells Jill to file a claim, the insurance company pretty much told her exactly where she could go. But if she was a day late paying her utility bill, the City would’ve released the kraken and tacked on all manner of penalties and fees.

As the Great D. L. Hughley would say, “Ain’t that a bitch!”

The self-righteous indignation with which Geneva and Batavia thrust a standard upon us they don’t begin to live up to is the kind of hypocrisy that makes the Grand Cheeto actually appear reasonable.

Tired of tossing appliances, Jill had an exterior surge protector installed at a $600 cost. It’s yet another reason not to move to Batavia.

If either municipality made their recalcitrant electric utility any kind of priority, I wouldn’t be writing this. But they refuse to do so. It’s not as if the challenges facing municipal government are mutually exclusive. It’s always been a matter of keeping the plates spinning. But when our ultra-progressive Geneva city council is obsessed with pride fire hydrants, “no-mow Mays*,” and home rule to the exclusion of our recurring power issues, crumbling subdivision streets, and a rapidly deteriorating eastside sewer system, then a line needs to be drawn.

It’s nice that Geneva is planting new trees in all manner of subdivision right of ways, but given the option, my choice would’ve been to spend that large amount of money on keeping the power on.

Batavia’s a little better in the priority regard, but not much. You’d think their penchant to raise taxes and fees at every turn could pay for some sort of electrical solution.

Again, if ComEd is the ultimate issue, then they need to be called on the carpet and made to answer for their lapses. They certainly have no problem raising rates.

So, Mayor Burns, City Manager Dawkins, and our esteemed city council, if you can’t, or are unwilling, to find a way to keep the power on, I promise to keep the heat on. I will happily hold you to the same lofty standard you hold your lowly residents. Considering our absurdly high city/property taxes, keeping the electricity flowing shouldn’t have to be a priority, it should be a matter of course.


*Authors Note:

After I wrote about “No-mow May” last spring, a number of Geneva readers wrote in to say that, if they did refrain from mowing their lawns for a month, the City code enforcers would be on them like Mayor Burns on another bad decision.

Ya just gotta love Geneva!

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