Smart meter foes file to put issue to voters

Smart meter foes file to put issue to voters

By Mick Swasko TribLocal reporter Today at 7:42 a.m.
Kim Bendis, foreground, and Jennifer Stahl, background, talk to City Clerk Pam LaFeber, right, about the petition for a referendum question they submitted Tuesday.Kim Bendis, foreground, and Jennifer Stahl, background, talk to City Clerk Pam LaFeber, right, about the petition for a referendum question they submitted Tuesday.

The Naperville Smart Meter Awareness Group turned in a petition with thousands of signatures Tuesday in an effort to get a referendum regarding the utility upgrade on the ballot.

The group — which opposes the city’s planned smart meter roll out for health, security and privacy reasons — had 4,209 signatures by their count Tuesday afternoon, when they presented them to the city clerk’s office. The referendum would be non-binding — meaning the city has no obligation to act on the results — and would be placed on the primary ballot in March. The yes-or-no question specifically asks whether or not the city should halt the program altogether.

“Shall the City of Naperville immediately and permanently stop the implementation of the $22 million smart meter project and dismantle all related equipment,” the question on the petition asks.

Kim Bendis, a member of the group, said she wants the city to halt any installation of the wireless smart meter and related equipment until the question is put to voters next year.

“Why would the city want to proceed when they have 4,000 residents that want to vote on it,” she said, adding that in the process of collecting signatures, she felt many residents were uninformed or opposed the project.

Tom Glass, who is also a member of the group, said he hopes a referendum proves the opposition to the program is widespread.

“The city keeps saying it is a vocal few coming out against this,” he said. “They are doing everything their (public relations) consultant told them to quell dissent. That’s been their tactic all along.”

Assistant Executive Director of the DuPage County Election Commission Doreen Nelson said if all the signatures the group submitted are valid and approved, they will have enough to get the measure on the ballot. The signatures still need to be verified by the city, however, before the question is officially placed on the ballot.

Councilman Bob Fieseler, who supports the project and is part of its steering committee, said he welcomes a poll of residents on the ballot.

“I am convinced the voters are going to embrace the smart grid program including the smart meters,” he said. “Part of the process is listening to the opposition’s concerns and trying to overcome those issues.”

Fieseler, however, said he would not support halting the project until the referendum, and that the council may have difficult decisions to make if the majority of voters reject smart meters. He said council members will have to weigh whether to represent the will of the people or to take a “leadership” role and maintain the program.

“The responsible thing to do would be to say, ‘what are our options,’” he said.

Councilman Grant Wehrli said he would also not support halting the project, and said the group has spread “fear, hyperbole, half-truths and misinformation.”

“How much are they asking us to undo,” he said of the referendum language, calling the wording “ambiguous.”

Councilman Doug Krause, who initially voted in support of the project, said he has changed his mind, in many ways because of the questions the Smart Meter Awareness Group has raised.

“The way this whole thing has been hatched has been a disservice to the community,” he said, adding that he is concerned about the security of the data that will be kept by the city, as well as health hazards that the wireless technology could present.

Krause also said he personally would vote in favor of the referendum.

“I would vote a yes on that,” he said, adding that he wanted to “send a message” to other council members.

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