A forum for comments about Naperville news and issues.

June 2008 Archives

Sunday's Sun features a story about a couple of Naperville-area Realtors who bought one of those conversion kits that make a diesel engine run on vegetable oil. At $4 a gallon for gas and even more for diesel, they figure the $1,000 kit will pay for itself in a matter of months.

What are you doing to save money on gas? Driving less? Looking to trade in that SUV for a compact? Rethinking that summer drive to the Grand Canyon? How are you coping with the high gas prices? And how do you pay for gas--cash or credit?

The Washington Post this week did a nice piece about how my late father helped beat the Russians in the space race:

http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2008/06/25/AR2008062502643.html

There's a video, too, from one of the old 8 mm cameras he used to shoot our home movies with.

--Ted Slowik

Potluck wishes to extend a big shout out to Stuart Meyer, who has an exhibit of downtown Naperville photography opening Saturday. "Portraits of Downtown" will be on display through July 28 at Art and Frame Naperville, 702 W. Fifth Ave. Admission is free and open to the public. Ten percent of exhibit-related sales proceeds will be donated to the Naperville Art League.

Meyer is creator of the World of Naperville blog, www.naperville.wordpress.com, and he writes about his town as the Naperville Examiner on Examiner.com

A reception for the "Portraits of Downtown" opening takes place from 5 to 8 p.m. Saturday at Art and Frame Naperville, www.artandframenaperville.com.

Check out his pictures, and you'll see that despite all the changes and new construction in downtown Naperville there are still some fine examples of late-19th and early 20th century architecture to be found.

What's your favorite example of architecture in Naperville? The old city hall-turned-La Sorella di Francesca? Buildings at the corner of Jefferson & Washington? Maybe you like more modern fare, outside of downtown (not featured in the exhibit), like the "N" building by the tollway. Hey, even the Riverwalk counts as architecture. Maybe there's a private residence you particularly admire. Tell us about it, and why you like it.

If you're a glass-half-full person, you can view the construction bidding process for Metea Valley High School with optimism and say that Indian Prairie School District 204 is on track to build the school for $4 million less than the $101.7 million estimate.

But if you're a glass-half-empty person, you'll be concerned to hear that the lowest bid for the electrical work came in $4 million -- or 50 percent -- more than expected.

Among the complications and concerns cited by potential and actual bidders: obtaining bonding; the massive size of the project and the relatively short amount of time they'd have to complete it; and subcontractors struggling to work around each other and complete their respective projects in the same areas of the building at the same time, a story in today's Sun reports.

These sound like predictable problems given the timetable to open by August '09.

One hopes all stays on track and the building comes in on time and under budget. (Mind you, change orders tend to alter the actual costs quite a bit by the time all is said and done. Sometimes change orders reduce costs. Usually not.)

What do you think: How likely is it that Metea will open on time and within budget?

Sure, of course you do. That stuff you read/hear about would never happen to you, because you monitor what your children do online. That's why there's no need for you to go to tonight's Internet safety meeting in Naperville for parents, right?

Let's do a quick poll: How many of your kids have MySpace or Facebook accounts? Ever had to order your kid to remove a photo from one of those sites? Ever consider they might be creating additional accounts and hiding them from you?

Do you let your child have a computer in his/her bedroom, with a web cam? That's just asking for trouble.

How about cameras on cell phones? It's becoming quite common for kids to take nude pictures of themselves or their friends and send them electronically to each other, as pranks, or sometimes to spite someone. Have you ever asked to look at the pictures stored in your kid's cell phone?

Just a few thoughts. Creepy predators using the Internet to lure kids is so 2004. Nowadays, it's more about how kids are using technology to embarrass themselves and their families.

Chicago has the Picasso, among others. In Naperville, it's Dr. Seuss. The City Council recently agreed to spend $115,000 to have a "Green Eggs and Ham" statue installed outside the 95th Street Library.

Funding comes from the Special Events and Cultural Amenities fund, which amounted to $2.57 million last year and comes from a citywide 1 percent tax on food and beverages. Century Walk, which is putting up the Seuss statue, received $274,000 in funding total this year.

What say you? Is public art a good thing that enhances the aesthetic value of a community and shows its deeper appreciation for the finer things in life? Or do you think it's not needed, that it's a luxury that should be financed via the private sector instead of by tax money?

Naperville Mayor A. George Pradel and others addressed the Naperville Area Homeowners Confederation Saturday about encouraging residents to visit local attractions instead of heading out of town, what with today's gas prices.

You can read the story here in The Sun:

http://www.suburbanchicagonews.com/napervillesun/news/1018997,6_1_NA23_NAHC_S1.article

With festivals, concerts and destinations like Centennial Beach, the DuPage Children's Museum and Naper Settlement, there is a lot to do in town. What's your favorite summertime event/activity/destination in Naperville?

By Ted Slowik

So, we're moving, my family and me. We found a great deal on a house for $260,000. We're selling our current home and extra lot for $190,000 total to two separate buyers. (We paid $134,00 for both eight years ago.) Our taxes on the old house are roughly $5,000, about the same at the new place. (Gotta love those low taxes in the Joliet school districts.)

It's been said that moving is more stressful than losing your job, or a death in the family. Since I'm going to be preoccupied with this situation until Aug. 1, I thought I'd share with you my experience buying and selling homes in this, the worst real estate crisis since Man moved out of caves, or something like that.

Friday's Sun cover is a story about local business owners expressing their gratitude toward Naperville police by making an $1,1117 donation to the Police Department for solving a crime involving the theft of an expensive puppy.

Earlier this year, detectives and investigators made an arrest within 36 hours of Naperville's first non-family murder in years.

So what's the verdict on Naperville cops? Are they the best money can buy? Can you say they're not worth every penny? Next week they'll remain at the forefront of Internet crime safety by hosting a presentation instructing parents on how to protect their children from Internet predators.

Is it a policy decision of the city council to place such emphasis on crime and devoting taxpayer resources toward crime prevention? Or is it an administrative function, department heads who take it upon themselves to ensure the crime rate stays low?

Testimonials would indicate the police in Naperville are doing a great job. Do you agree?

It's almost finished--a pedestrian bridge across Route 59. We see these over interstates, but how many like this cross state highways? The bridge will connect neighborhoods like Tall Grass with destinations like the YMCA, library and Neuqua Valley High School.

The city says the foot bridge cost $2.5 million, and that feds paid 75 percent of the cost, which would mean Naperville's share was somewhere in the neighborhood of $625,000.

Is it worth it? Will you use it when it opens in a few weeks?

Naperville's City Council Tuesday night decided to join a consortium that opposes Canadian National's acquisition of the EJ&E Railway. Opponents say increased freight traffic at grade-level crossings would hinder the ability of emergency vehicles to get around town, slow school buses and cause delays for commuters. Yet officials concede that federal officials appear likely to approve CN's acquisition of the EJ&E. If and when that happens, opponents--like Naperville--might wage a legal battle as a next step. This could end up being a costly move. Do you agree with Naperville's decision to join other towns and counties fighting the sale? What will the impact be to you if the acquisition goes through?

The platform for this forum is acting up. IT is working on it. The system keeps booting me off but with great difficulty I can publish entries and comments.

Hopefully the tech folks resolve this soon. It's been acting up like this since Friday.


UPDATE: As of Tuesday afternoon the system appears to be functioning normally again.

A report in Monday's Sun details how some commuters who use Naperville's Smart Card system to pay for parking at the Route 59 Metra lot are getting stuck with $15 tickets because of a machine malfunction. Those who believe they have received parking tickets in error can appeal.

The story also reports how Naperville's dramatic increase in quarterly parking permit fees hasn't had much of an effect on demand yet. With costs doubling to $120 for residents, the thought was that some who hoard the passes without using them very often would drop them, thus putting a dent into that list of some 3,700 people waiting two to six years to get a parking permit for a commuter lot.

But that hasn't happened. So far, only nine people have withdrawn from the program, a city official said.

Should Naperville charge even more money, then take those funds and create more parking for commuters? Are you taking the train more often now that gas costs more than $4 a gallon? What's your experience with commuter parking in Naperville?

A report in Sunday's Sun describes what local governments are doing about high fuel prices. The city of Naperville, for example, says its cut fuel consumption by 6 percent in recent years by reducing the number of vehicles in its fleet, buying fuel wholesale, and taking other steps. The Forest Preserve District of DuPage County is using alternative fuels. The Naperville Park District is telling workers not to leave vehicles idling.

What do you think -- are these steps enough? Remember not long ago when a whistleblower told DuPage County Board members how public works employees were filling up personal vehicles with gas paid for by county taxpayers? And that was before $4 a gallon gas. How confident are you that there are no thefts by employees taking place now?

What are you doing to cut your own personal fuel consumption? What do you think government agencies should do to reduce fuel costs?

Journalism lost a legend today with the passing of Tim Russert, 58, host of NBS'c "Meet the Press" since 1991. I met the man in 2006 at North Central College, during a book tour stop sponsored by Naperville's world-renowned Anderson's. He was down-to-earth and friendly, and it's a privilege to say my father's story is included in one of his books.

So, in honor of Father's Day, and in memory of a great man, here's a story I wrote two years ago when Tim Russert visited Naperville:

A legacy of love

By Ted Slowik
My father could fix anything. He could straighten a bent bicycle wheel, repair a window shattered by a baseball, even mend tattered relationships.

It's a tremendous honor for my father, Jozef Slowik, to appear in Tim Russert's new book, "Wisdom of Our Fathers." But it's no surprise, given the subject matter. Russert, host of NBC's "Meet the Press," will talk about the book and sign copies tonight at North Central College.

My sister, Jeanne Moran of Aledo, read Russert's 2004 book, "Big Russ & Me," and responded to the request for readers to submit stories about their fathers. More than 60,000 stories were submitted; only 175 were chosen.

Our father was a mechanical engineer. During the 1960s he worked for the Illinois Institute of Technology Research Institute, where he designed and built androids NASA used to test spacesuits. One of the androids is on display at the Smithsonian's Air and Space Museum in Washington, D.C.

He invented the surgical stapler, a device still widely used by doctors.

He was a brilliant problem-solver, but to his 12 kids he was simply Dad.

"I had a dad who read to me when Mom was too tired to think, a dad who knew when he walked in the door after a long day at work that Mom had had a tougher day at home, feeding and raising 12 children," my sister's story reads.

In a few weeks, we will experience the first Father's Day without our father. He died of leukemia March 5 at age 84.

"At least he got to read it before he died," my sister said of the story she submitted.

Her story is featured in a section about discipline. She wrote about how one punishment consisted of cracking walnuts. Those who misbehaved in church had to kneel on the gravel driveway.

"If two of us were fighting, we had to stand in the kitchen, each in a separate square on the tile floor far enough apart so we couldn't reach each other, and think of three nice things to say about the other person," she wrote.

Many of the book's stories are about large Catholic families, and the stories resonate with familiarity.

"I had a dad who sacrificed so that all of his children could attend Catholic schools. On Saturday nights, he used to line up our polished shoes so they would be ready for church on Sunday," my sister wrote.

We grew up in Countryside, near La Grange. Most of us still live in the area, including our brother, Paul, who lives in Naperville and owns Bud's Concrete. Our sister, Jo Marie, is married to Mark Robbins, who was a lieutenant with the Naperville Police Department before he retired and who now teaches criminal justice at Minnesota State University in Mankato.

The storytellers in Russert's book were not paid, though each writer did receive an autographed copy of the book.

I miss my dad, his wisdom and his ability to lead by example. I try to be like him, and I try to emulate how he could bring people together and mediate disputes.

My sister is No. 11, and I'm the youngest. I love my sister, but once, as a kid, I pushed her down a flight of stairs.

"The greatest legacy that Dad has left behind is that his children get along so well as adults," she wrote. "With all the sibling rivalry that existed as we were growing up, we still manage to get together often during the year, and we actually like one another. Dad taught us to care. In the long run, what more can a father do?"

Thanks to a Sun reader, we were alerted Thursday morning to 25 or 30 computer monitors dumped in a trash bin outside Naperville's Ranch View Elementary School.

Once we checked it out and verified the presence of the discarded computer materials, we wondered: If the monitors couldn't be donated to anyone, shouldn't they at least be recycled?

It turns out -- and we want to thank District 203 officials for being very helpful and straightforward in getting to the bottom of this -- that someone else likely illegally placed the materials in the school's Dumpster, a practice known as "fly dumping."

We saw this as an opportunity to inform people that because electronics equipment usually contains lead and other hazardous materials, it shouldn't be tossed in the trash. It should be recycled and kept out of landfills.

What do you do with your old electronics gear? Are there enough electronics recycling opportunities in the area to make it convenient for people to properly dispose of materials?

It was billed as a wonderful public-private partnership that would wrap retail shops around a parking deck. But the deal to build the 317-space addition to the Van Buren parking deck has gone sour, with the parties involved in the private side of the partnership suing each other. In court Tuesday, a lawyer for one of the parties said the dispute threatens to shut the project down, The Sun reports Wednesday.

Maybe this will all work out and there will be no delays to the project. Then again, maybe not.

What impact do you think the lawsuits will have on construction? How important is it to you that the Van Buren deck addition be completed on time? What do you think of the downtown parking situation? And given these developments, what should Naperville's approach to public-private partnerships be in the future?

It's rough being a small-business owner, especially when a construction project chokes off access to your business. That's the case of a Bailey Road florist (just down the street from Extra Value Liquors), who says business has fallen off 75 percent since the city closed the Bailey Road Bridge for a summer reconstruction project.

His beef is that he thinks the city didn't do a very good job notifying the neighborhood about the project. He wishes the city got residents and business owners together at a meeting to talk about it. The city says it sent letters, publicized the work and featured it prominently on its Web site, and that this isn't the sort of debate-driven issue that warrants a meeting.

What say you? Should the city have conducted a neighborhood meeting about this project? Is this just the case of a merchant whose seen his sales slashed venting his frustration at the city? Overall, how well do you think the city communicates with its residents and merchants?

Monday's Sun features a report about the Illinois Teachers Retirement System. It's $22 billion underfunded. That's money the state owes it, but hasn't yet paid, because Illinois has a tendency to balance its budget the only way it knows how--by deferring mandated payments to retirement systems (the state also drags its feet reimbursing health care providers). Overall, the state's running a $42 billion deficit in pension funding.

TRS and teachers' unions say their pensions are not excessively generous, that only a few administrators get the golden-parachute deals we hear about. And that recent laws have curtailed excessive end-of-career raises that bump up retirement benefits. The average annual benefit TRS pays out is about $40,000 a year, or $3,344 a month.

What do you think? Is this entirely a state problem? Are teachers' pensions too low, too high or just right? What other laws should be enacted to curb abuses of the pension system?

(Editor's note: an earlier version of this entry incorrectly reported the amount of the state's TRS deficit.)

We're in one of those stormy cycles, where just about every day it seems there are new reports of high winds, heavy rains and damage in our area.

People love to talk about the weather. How well do you think local authorities give notice about approaching severe weather? How about the aftermath--how well do the city, townships and other agencies handle the cleanup of branches, etc.

How do you find out about severe weather--TV, Internet, radio, sirens, personal digital devices? What's your worst storm experience?

Naperville-area farmer Llyod Hamman has agreed to accept $1.8 million to settle an eminent domain lawsuit, Sunday's Sun reports. DuPage County and the city of Naperville want his 5 acres off Plank Road to continue the $13 million Steeple Run Watershed project, which aims to control serious flooding like the 1996 flood that affected 30 homes on Huffman Street.

But Hamman isn't done in court. On Friday, he filed a civil rights lawsuit against the DuPage County sheriff and 12 other officers, saying his rights were violated two years ago when authorities seized goats and chickens from his property, claiming neglect. He was arrested, but the charges were later dropped, and a judge said the warrantless search of his property was illegal.

Your thoughts on either of these two cases? Let's see, $1.8million for 5 acres works out to $360,000 an acre. Boy, land is expensive these days. What about the civil rights lawsuit? Are you surprised to learn--as court records show--that the county executed an illegal search? This guy's been waiting two years for his goats and chickens. If indeed they were taken from him illegally, what sort of compensation should he receive? What do you think the federal lawsuit will end up costing the county and its taxpayers?

And can anyone know for sure--what is the connection between Lloyd Hamman (guy who lost goats) and the Wheatland Township farm of Don Hamman (brother?), where 12 decomposing goat carcasses were discovered in late April?

Tuesday night, we learned Naperville's City Council likes to replace vehicles after just 52,000 miles. After wringing its hands and a few members saying they didn't think the city needed to replace vehicles that were so near to new, the council went ahead anyway and voted to spend $222,000 for 10 replacement vehicles. Only Dick Furstenau dissented.

City staff recommended the purchases, saying the new models will be more fuel-efficient, for one. These were mostly pickup trucks, used by Department of Public Works employees.

What do you think about the purchases? Do they make sense to you? How come the majority of council members questioned the wisdom of replacing perfectly good vehicles, then went ahead and approved the purchase anyway?

Is this fiscally responsible? Do you agree with staff's recommendation that the vehicles had to be replaced due to "excessive use?"

Voters agreed to spend the money to build it. Figuring out where to build it caused much debate and several legal battles. But with Tuesday's ceremonial groundbreaking, Indian Prairie School District 204's third high school finally and irrevocably took on a tangible quality. It's here, or at least they tell us it will be by fall 2009.

How fitting that Metea Valley High School's formal groundbreaking should occur on the day that Barack Obama clinches the Democratic nomination for president. How ironic that two drawn out, take-no-prisoners battles should conclude (in Metea's case, symbolically at least) on the same day.

Seeing architectural renderings for the first time, hearing the congratulatory words from Aurora officials, it all seems so real now. Metea is going to happen. It'll be a great school, folks, we're sure. Yes, there's still the unresolved lawsuits with the Brach and Brodie trusts over the abandoned site where district officials promised to build the school, and we've no idea how much those will end up costing the district and taxpayers. But nothing now is going to change the fact that Metea is moving forward. It's inevitable. Game over.

What now? Well, there's an awful lot of healing to be done, if it can be. The battle over Metea divided the community and caused a lot of hurt feelings. Just as Hillary Clinton must concede the nomination and support her party's candidate, isn't it time for those who fought Metea to come around and accept it? Or are we way off? Will some Mettea opponents carry on the fight, like some of Clinton's die hard supporters? What will they have to gain?

One last thought. Even if you don't support the school board and/or administration, why not embrace the school at this point? It's going to be a very nice school, assuming all goes as planned. Are you willing to accept it, now that construction has started?

Tuesday's Sun features an account about the debate over hanging laundry out to dry. In this era of going green, it's the trendy thing to do to be environmentally friendly and save money on energy costs, too. (It's ironic that something so traditional as air-drying laundry would be called trendy...)

While there's no ordinance that prohibits the practice in Naperville, many subdivisions have policies that ban outdoor laundry drying for being unsightly. Again, the trendy thing to do is to forget aesthetics, repeal the bans and let the wind and sun dry our clothes and sheets. (They smell better, anyway). Even the tony Hamptons in New York has repealed its outdoor laundry ban, and they're like Naperville on steroids over there.

What do you think? If you lived in a subdivision where the homeowners association prohibits air-drying laundry, what would you do? Encourage the board to repeal the ban? Or do you think laundry is unsightly, and you favor banning it? Let's hear what you think.

Since Memorial Day, vandals have damaged at least five sculptures on display in downtown Naperville this summer as part of a United Way fundraiser. Signs are stolen from some and parts are snapped off of others.

Keep in mind these sculptures are raffled off at the end of the summer and are a major source of revenue for the Naperville United Way, a benevolent organization that does good throughout the community.

So, what's going on here? Bored youth, ignorant of the purpose of these sculptures? Drunk, young adults, stumbling out of Naperville watering holes in the wee hours and grabbing onto sculptures to steady themselves and having frog tongues snap off in their hands?

Has the idea of displaying and auctioning sculptures run its course? Is it time for United Way to come up with some other idea to raise funds? Some concept less prone to vandalism?

Naperville got out of an agreement with a company that was supposed to install cameras to catch red-light offenders at selected intersections. But the city isn't ready to kiss good-bye the nearly $900,000 in revenue those cameras were expected to generate in fines. Naperville expects to choose a new vendor and install cameras at busier intersections along Route 59, a move expected to generate as much revenue (in a shorter time) as the other cameras would have.

What do you make of all this? Are you confident the cameras provided by the new vendor, once chosen, will be reliable? Are you concerned about reports that some jurisdictions are abandoning red-light camera enforcement programs due to problems? What about the plan to shift focus to Route 59? If those are the intersections with the biggest concerns about safety, why wasn't the focus there all along?

Naperville Potluck

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