Naperville smart-meter foes criticize arrests
Feb 07, 2013 (Chicago Tribune - McClatchy-Tribune Information Services via COMTEX) --
Opponents of Naperville's smart meter program are lashing out at city officials for the arrest of two protesters who police say interfered with the installation of the electric equipment.
"Anyone in the audience or anyone watching this at home should be very concerned when the city government starts enforcing city municipal code with police force," Amber Schoedel said at a Naperville City Council meeting this week. She said she was "sickened" by the Jan. 23 arrests.
Naperville has installed the so-called smart meters on 57,000 homes, a project officials said will make the electric system more reliable and efficient while reducing costs.
However, the Naperville Smart Meter Awareness group has expressed concerns about whether the wireless meters will affect health, security and privacy. The group has a federal lawsuit pending against the city. The two women who were arrested are leaders of the group.
City officials did not respond to the comments during the public forum Tuesday, but City Manager Doug Krieger later said he stands by the arrests, which happened when workers, accompanied by police, returned to homes where owners repeatedly refused to allow a meter to be installed.
"We absolutely would have preferred the arrests were not necessary," Krieger said. "We've stated before, and will state again, we have every right to access and maintain our own equipment."
The arrests are the latest in a yearslong controversy involving the meters.
The project initially was expected to cost $22 million, a tab that would be split between the city and U.S. Department of Energy. It is running about $1.7 million over budget due in large part to security features being added.
Opponents have said they are worried about the security of the data the meters transmit and also fear that the installation of the meters will lead to fires, as has happened, albeit rarely, in other cities. Naperville officials maintain that the issues in other towns are not with the smart meters themselves and say they have taken precautions to protect residents and their homes.
Last year the group tried to conduct an advisory referendum asking voters if Naperville should stop the smart meter project and dismantle the equipment. However, the city's electoral board ruled that the group did not have enough valid signatures to place the question on the ballot.
The DuPage County Circuit Court subsequently denied the group's request to reverse the decision and the Illinois Appellate Court dismissed the group's appeal.
Two weeks ago, the city sent workers accompanied by police to install meters at homes where owners had repeatedly refused them.
Malia "Kim" Bendis, of the 2200 block of Mercer Court, one of the leaders of Naperville Smart Meter Awareness, was arrested at one of the homes and charged with two misdemeanors: attempted eavesdropping and resisting a peace officer. Jennifer Stahl, of the 1400 block of Westglen Drive, received two ordinance violation citations: interfering with a police officer and preventing access to customer premises.
Critics spent about 40 minutes of Tuesday's City Council meeting airing their concerns during a public forum that at times turned raucous with shouts of "shameful" and "resign," while several police officers lined the room.
Resident Jerry Schilling called the installation of meters after homeowners refused an "all-out assault on many of the citizens' personal property" and called on the City Council to fire Krieger and police Chief Bob Marshall.
"As far as I know we still live in the United States of America and not Communist China," he said.
His comments drew clapping and cheers from the crowd, leading Mayor George Pradel to call for a five-minute recess.
Later, resident Tim Messer, who is a member of the city's Planning and Zoning Commission but stressed that he was speaking only for himself, said he generally supports the smart meter project but found the arrests to be an "unnecessary show of force."
"I've been concerned for a while about the lack of civil discourse related to the smart grid project," he said. "Both sides, I feel, have often been talking past each other."
After the meeting, Krieger said the city has taken steps to try to alleviate concerns about the project such as testing the meters to make sure radio frequencies meet Federal Communications Commission guidelines, providing an alternative meter without wireless and hiring a contractor to perform a cybersecurity audit.
"Those steps were absolutely a result of the public process that went on," he said. "We certainly haven't pleased 100 percent of residents, and we rarely do. However, the vast, vast majority, I believe, is very satisfied with the steps we've taken."
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