Wednesday, May 30, 2007

Check-Writing in McHenry County

I have a fairly short leash for stupid things and, when I started receiving small checks from McHenry County payable to PHILPOTT GUS, I wondered why. These checks are a small stipend from a project of the Mental Health Board, where families participate and provide input for, hopefully, improving mental health services to residents of McHenry County.

After inquiring of the organization and also with one of my District 5 County Board representatives, I thought the problem was fixed. My checks began arriving, addressed to GUS PHILPOTT.

I was naive enough to think that the problem had been addressed and that all who receive these stipends would thereafter receive checks payable to them as FIRSTNAME LASTNAME. Right?

Wrong! I learned that only my check was changed and that others continue to receive checks payable to LASTNAME FIRSTNAME.

This morning I called McHenry County Government Center. Payroll transferred me to the Auditor's Dept., which tried to transfer me to the Purchasing Dept. I ended up at the State's Attorney's office! I called back and got the receptionist inthe Purchasing Dept., who told me that it is set up that way so that someone searching for a last name can find the person for whom they are looking.

How old, ancient, archaic is the County's computer system? Are they still using punch cards?

This is a very simple programming issue. You look for the field that reads FIRSTNAME and that's where you put the person's first name. With me so far? Then you look for the field that reads LASTNAME, and that's where you put the person's last name? Am I going too fast for you?

Then you tell the computer to print checks with the FIRSTNAME first and the LASTNAME second, with a space in-between. OK? Still with me?

And, when you are searching for a person, you search the LASTNAME field for the last name. What kind of programmers are there at the County offices? Or what kind of software did they buy, if it doesn't permit this?

I hate things that are done just "because that's how we've always done it."

I was reminded of a temp job I had in Richmond, Va., before moving to Woodstock in 1996.

Every night an insurance company printed 1,100 pages, double-sided, and then I was supposed to search one column for entries and list them. They had been doing this for years.

I asked why the programmer didn't just sort and print only the rows with data in the certain column. The answer was that they'd never done it that way. I contacted a CPA "upstairs". She was outraged at the waste, and the next day (and thereafter) only 10 pages were printed with all the needed data.

It's the Drivers, not the Road!

This week’s Woodstock Independent carries a front-page article about traffic concerns on U.S. Highway 14 near Centegra Memorial Medical Center.

According to the paper and, presumably, the Woodstock Police Department, there have been 185 accidents in the past three years between Lily Pond Road and Lake Avenue – the light in front of Farm & Fleet.

It was quite interesting to read that Woodstock PD presented its concerns about these two miles on Hwy. 14 to IDOT last August (2006).

They would have been preparing their presentation right about the time I tried to file charges against a westbound driver for passing me illegally in the dip just east of the hospital, clearly in a no-passing zone. When I passed Lily Pond Road and was approaching the first hillcrest to the west, there was an older grey 4-door sedan about ¼ mile behind me, almost to Lily Pond Road. Suddenly there was Pontiac TransAm right behind me; I mean, right on my bumper.

In the dip between Lily Pond Road and Doty Road, that driver accelerated and passed me in the no-passing zone. His speed was high and his pass was clearly illegal, so I telephoned the Woodstock PD to see if an officer could get him stopped. They know I will go to court and testify.

No officers were on the road, so I drove to the police station on Lake Avenue. An officer left rollcall and came to the lobby. He didn’t introduce himself, didn’t ask my name, didn’t have a notepad or pen ready, didn’t shake hands, and wouldn’t look me in the eye. It was so obvious that he had been told to come down to listen to me that I said, “What did they do in rollcall, draw straws to see who would have to come and talk to me? And you got the short one?”

He refused to accept my complaint, and I then spoke with his sergeant. The sergeant also refused to accept my complaint. I went home and emailed Chief Lowen, and the next afternoon both the officer and the sergeant pretended to be happy as clams to take my report. I submitted a two-page typewritten statement with the short handwritten report, and the officer’s report mentions my typewritten statement. But it never got to the City Attorney’s office for the attorney who would prosecute the case in court.

We went to court. The prosecuting attorney from the Woodstock City Attorney’s office was not prepared, and he wouldn’t talk to me before the trial. The other driver and his passenger lied about the location where he passed me, and they got away with perjury.

In 11 years I have never seen a Woodstock police car monitoring traffic between Lily Pond Road and Lake Avenue. Is it any wonder that drivers speed, pass illegally, tailgate, run off onto the shoulder or across the center line?

I have recommended use of Woodstock PD’s radar speed trailer there; has it ever been there?

It's not an engineering issue or a speed-reduction issue. It's driver carelessness and willful disobedience of traffic laws. If the P.D. wrote 100-200-300 tickets a week along that two-mile stretch and publicized them well with newspaper articles, radio reports and a billboard with changeable numbers for the number of tickets issued, guess what? No accidents, no speeding and every driver would pay attention.

How about signs in both directions: “High Accident Zone”? “Do not tailgate”? “Speed Limit – Zero Tolerance”?

This problem doesn’t require throwing millions of dollars at it. All that is needed is enforcement of existing laws.

Monday, May 28, 2007

Driving Drunk

DuPage County State’s Attorney Jane Radostits killed herself while driving drunk on May 11.

After a bomb scare at the SA’s office others and she took off for errands and a lunch of appetizers and drinks for three hours.

The DuPage County sheriff’s report indicates that she was speeding about 85MPH in a 45MPH zone, may have been on her cell phone and was not wearing her seatbelt when she lost control of her car.

A poster in the Daily Herald wrote that many, if not most, drunk drivers pulled over are first-time offenders. Sorry, but I think he is wrong. They might be getting caught for the first time, but it’s not the first time they were driving while drunk. They have just been lucky too many times before, because there are too few cops on the road looking for drunk drivers and, when they stop one, they are tied up far too long with paperwork and then miss many more.

And what if Radostits had been stopped before she caused the wreck? Would she have flashed her ID card at the cop? Would she have been passive or belligerent? By nature of her work, might she have become at least “assertive” with the officer who stopped her? Would she have gotten a “pass”? Been taken home? Had her husband called to pick her up? Been driven home by the cop’s supervisor or commanding officer? Called one of her State’s Attorney drinking buddies to come and get her? Taken to a coffee shop to “sober up”?

Professional courtesy, don’t you know? I guess it all depends on where she got stopped and the level of the cop’s integrity.

Had I stopped her (when I was a deputy)? Ignore the State’s Attorney ID. Disarm her, if she was carrying a weapon. Roadside sobriety check. Handcuffs. Have her car towed. Off to the pokey. Breath or blood tests. Arrest, photographs, fingerprinting. Jail. Bail. Court date. Prosecution and, hopefully, conviction and jail.

What about her drinking buddies that day? Why didn’t the DuPage County Sheriff’s report dig more deeply into their own consumption of alcohol? Sitting for three hours in a restaurant, eating only appetizers? Does anyone else wonder just how much alcohol each really had to drink?

And what about right here in McHenry County? Where are the favorite water holes of the bureaucrats, politicians and cops?

According to the Daily Herald (not the Northwest Herald) on May 26, McHenry County State's Attorney Louis "Bianchi has a standing agreement with his staff: If, for any reason, they cannot drive, he personally will reimburse them for their cab fare home."

Thanks, Daddy. I presume that he will not charge taxpayers for this cost on a County expense reimbursement form. It's pretty nice that he plays "Daddy" for his employees. Of course, what employee is going to call him at 2:00AM? "Lou, I'm too drunk to drive and need a cab home" or "Lou, I was too drunk to drive last night and took a cab home. Here's the bill for $100."

Do you speed? Why not?

If a top cop in McHenry County speeds, why shouldn’t you?

Several years ago one of the top McHenry County law enforcement officials told me how fast people drive in Wisconsin, adding that he “had to” drive 85MPH just to keep up with them. Wisconsin’s maximum speed limit on highways is 65MPH, so I immediately wondered why a top cop is speeding 20MPH over the posted speed limit instead of driving at the speed limit in the right lane! He didn’t “have to” speed. He didn’t “have to” keep up with them. He “chose” to do so, thereby violating the lawful speed limit and his oath of office.

On Sunday mornings at 6:00AM on Star 105.5 and Y103.9 is a community service program called Northwest Spectrum, hosted by Stew Cohen.

On May 27 Stew interviewed Capt. Jeff Hedrich of the Illinois State Police (District 2, which includes McHenry County) and Undersheriff Gene Lowery of the McHenry County Sheriff’s Department. The topic was speeding and traffic violations.

During the short program, which begins just before 6:00AM, Stew mentioned the driver who in January was clocked by the Illinois State Police on Kishwaukee Valley Road at 150MPH.

Both Capt. Hedrich and Undersheriff Lowery “went soft” on traffic violators. Instead of hammering drivers for their willing disobedience of traffic laws, they were gentle and without force during the program. It was a PSA of which their superiors would be proud, and it changes nothing.

I am filing a Freedom-of-Information Act Request with the State Police for information about the Kishwaukee Valley Road speeding violation and will check court records for action and fine amounts. I tend to read the Northwest Herald pretty carefully for items of this nature, but I missed it.

I have sent the following email to them, with copies to Sen. Althoff and Reps. Tryon and Franks:

“I heard Sunday morning's interview that was broadcast at 6:00AM (when the people who needed to hear it were asleep), and I was sorry that you didn't hammer the traffic violators for what they really are. Drivers today ignore traffic laws, because they have not been rigorously enforced for years.

“You are right that "education" is the key. Writing traffic tickets one-at-a-time will never fix the horrendous problem that exists today. A cooperative effort by local police and sheriffs, IDOT, the Tollway, the Illinois State Police and the Secretary of State's DMV is needed. How simple and cheap it would be to put driving safety messages on the rear of public vehicles. I have also suggested driver education messages on envelopes used by the DMV.

“I observe all traffic laws. I drive the speed limit on all roads. I stop at red lights. I prepare to stop when approaching a stale green light. I must be on my guard that I am not rear-ended if I stop when a light changes. I don't use a handheld cell phone.

“I am a frequent target of road rage because I drive at the speed limit in the right lane on the Tollway. I have been passed by drivers who leave the right lane to use exit and entrance lanes to pass me on the right and I have been passed on the right shoulder. I am harassed when I drive at the speed limit on two-lane and four-lane highways throughout McHenry County.

“I am frequently passed in no-passing zones because I am "poking" along at the posted speed limit.

“I favor use of rolling blockades, unmarked cars, aircraft, PhotoRadar and a crackdown on drivers who fail to display front license plates, obscure front and rear license plates with tinted lens, and operate vehicles with illegal front heavily-tinted side windows. These are the speeders, reckless drivers, tailgaters, red-light runners.

“More publicity is needed regarding driving violations. Court Supervision should be terminated. All convictions should be reported to the Secretary of State's office.

“One other thing: police officers, deputy sheriffs and politicians should obey all traffic laws, including speed limits. When I am passed by a cop or a legislator who is just "going down the road" at 15 (or more) over the speed limit, I identify this as a primary cause of disobedience by the rest of the driving public.”

Sunday, May 27, 2007

More on Real Estate Signs

This week-end I counted 262 illegal real estate advertising signs along Route 120 and Route 47 within five miles of Woodstock. 23 different developers had signs out. Seven developers accounted for 50% of the signs. The biggest offenders?

Neumann Homes 22 8.4%
KB Homes 21 8.0%
Railway Estates 20 7.6%
Epcon Homes 19 7.3%
Kirk Homes 19 7.3%
Ponds of Bull Valley 17 6.5%
Ryland Homes Bryn Mawr 14 5.3%

What amazes me is that in about three years of complaints to the McHenry County Planning & Development Department, there has been no meaningful action to halt the illegal placement of these signs. Every Friday night they magically sprout along the rights-of-way and by some mysterious act they disappear on Sunday night.

My viewpoint is that the developers know that the signs are being placed illegally (at their direction and expense). When a key person at the Planning & Development Department wrote to me that developers take them down on Sunday night because they just want them up on week-ends to attract the attention of motorists driving around looking at new houses, I laughed so hard I almost had to go to the hospital. Yeah, sure. That’s right. That makes sense. You bet. Incur the expense of putting them out and taking them in, and then not leave them up for commuters to see during the week, who might like to shorten their commute by buying one of the new houses? Har-har-har.

Now the Planning Committee of the McHenry County Board is giving a little attention to these illegal signs. But is it giving enough attention? Wouldn’t the solution be for the Committee to direct the head of the Department to get rid of those signs? Sounds pretty simple to me. The law already exists. All that is needed is for someone to take a deep breath and drop the hammer.

Two letters to developers would take care of the problem.

The first letter could explain the problem, the law, the violation, and ask the developer to cease putting his signs in the highway right-of-way. If he doesn’t cease, the County will remove them and bill him for the expense of doing so.

The second letter could inform the developer how many signs were removed and enclose the bill for, say, $25.00 per sign.

This week-end there were 262 signs just on Route 120 for five miles northeast of Woodstock and on Route 47 for five miles south of Woodstock. Fines of $6,550 (262 x $25) should cover three hours of overtime for 2-3 County employees in a truck and two hours of secretarial time, plus $9.43 worth of postage.

Saturday, May 26, 2007

Farmers’ Market on Woodstock Square

The new configuration around the Woodstock Square for the Saturday Farmers’ Market eliminates parking spaces on the left side of the roads around the Square.

Is this a proper allowance and decision by the City?

Vendors park the vehicles and trailers parallel to the inside curbs (contrary to angular parking space striping) and then set up their tables and tents for the Farmers’ Market. I didn’t count the number of vendors or customers, but I hope the City will track. Should be easy, because a business license or permit should be required and sales tax collected on all business transacted.

When the City allows a public roadway to be taken out of use on a regular basis for promotion of commercial business interests (vegetables, fruit, baked goods, other merchandise), is this a proper and legal use of public property?

Of course, the City will say it’s OK because they approved it. But, is it legal to approve it? Input from citizens to the City Council is important.

What impact does this have on the (other) businesses on the Square? Does the Farmers’ Market bring business to them? Or does it drive business away from the businesses on the Square because their customers cannot find places to park?

Animal Control Palace

Should we all be amused, or terrified, by the project to create a palace for the McHenry County Animal Control folks?

Terrified, I’d say.

Kevin Craver wrote in this morning’s Northwest Herald (5/26/07, Page 1B) that McHenry County “…will bid out a scaled-back Animal Control building…”

What I want to know is, how did it ever get “scaled-up” above the $3,700,000 budget in the first place!

Cutting $27,000 for aesthetic millworking? Aw, gee…. Won’t the poor little doggies and kitties feel slighted when dragged biting and clawing into a plain-looking building?

Cutting back the number of plumbing fixtures? Just how many employees are there? One restroom for visitors is plenty, and make it uni-sex. Oh, wait; OSHA probably has something to say about that. Just like it did in a mining camp in the Colorado mountains, when OSHA required two old brothers to provide separate restrooms for men and women – even though they didn’t allow women in their mine!

How could inflation significantly affect a remodeling estimate established only a few months ago? Didn’t the Management Services Committee or the County Board include inflation (hey, we’re not running 20% inflation that I know of…) in its considerations before approving the $3.7 Million?

And a “redesign based on staff recommendations”? Come on, folks. Give us a break here. The staff had its chance BEFORE the $3.7 budget was approved. Has McHenry County slid east into Washington, D.C. or south into Springfield? Or, worse, just a little east into Chicago?

We, the People, need to start attending County Board meetings and meetings of the Board’s Committees. And don’t just sit there. Register upon arrival to speak and then speak up. Let our elected representatives know what you think and what you want. Tell them what you want; ask them to do what you want; ask them what they intend to do (i.e., how do they intend to vote on a certain issue).

Most importantly, follow up and find out just how they DID vote. Then thank them – or ask why they changed their minds!

Woodstock’s DMV: Grade D-

My visit to the Woodstock Department of Motor Vehicle Services on May 24 was certainly “interesting.”

I thought I had all my license plate renewal papers in order, so I avoided the bottleneck at the front desk where, if they can catch you, they require all arrivals to queue up and wait while one person “directs traffic.” If that person only directed arriving customers to one counter or another, it would be a great service. One that could be avoided by a nice overhead sign and saving $40,000/year for a “greeter”, but a nice service. Nice to know our vehicle tax dollars are at work, or so we hope.

The problem is that the greeter is a bottleneck, because s/he gets into far too much detail with the arriving customer. Result? 6-8 workers at counters have nothing to do and are standing there gossiping, waiting for the next customer. Some management, eh? Where is that manager, anyway? (Stand by; I’m about to tell you.)

I proceeded to the Cashier’s window, where a dozen people stood in line. Whoa! Wait just one minute! But I was about to wait 10-15 minutes... I had just walked past three Title Clerk windows, and there was only one customer being waited on and two title clerks with nothing to do.

So I stepped out of line and went to the nearest title clerk. Politely, I hope, I asked her to let the manager know that there were a dozen people in the cashier’s line and only one window open. I requested that she ask the Manager to open a second Cashier position, and I returned to my line.

Looking back, I saw that she hadn’t moved, so I walked back to the title clerk counter. The center clerk was leaning on her elbows, looking generally bored, so I walked up to her and repeated my request. Imagine my surprise when she said, “I am the manager.”

I returned to the line and shortly a second Cashier’s window was opened. Don’t go away; the story isn’t over yet.

I arrived at the window and presented my paperwork. The cashier asked me to write my driver’s license number on my check. I refused and said it wasn’t needed. She answered that the “banks require” my driver’s license number on my check. I assured her that the banks do NOT require a driver’s license number on checks. What she was trying to explain was, I guess, that a lot of checks are bouncing at the DMV. I pointed out that my driver’s license number was already pre-printed on my vehicle registration form. If my check bounced, they wouldn’t have any trouble finding me.

I told her that every consumer credit agency advises NOT to put your driver’s license number on your check. Then a man behind the counter said that Jesse White’s orders are that driver’s license numbers are to be placed on checks, and they directed my attention to a sign right on the Cashier’s window, just a foot from my face. And sure enough…..there was Jesse White’s directive.

If a motorist presents a bad check at the DMV, then the DMV should revoke his registration and send the sheriff out to collect the license plates from the vehicle – the first time. Pure and simple. And put up a list in the DMV and photographs of plates recovered in this manner. And a list of fines and penalties assessed for handling the bad check process. I don’t want to pay that expense.

When the person comes in with good money, he gets his plates back, and he’d better not drive that vehicle in to pick up his plates.

While I was in the DMV, I overheard a title clerk telling a customer that he had to bring in a check or a money order for a certain transaction and that they would not accept cash. I could not hear the entire conversation, but I did wonder why the DMV would not accept cash. The man was standing right there with a wad of folding money, and the title clerk wouldn’t take it. She was directing him to a Currency Exchange across the road, so that he could get a check.

What kind of dumb rule could require that?

Friday, May 25, 2007

Best (Worst?) Business Practices

Recently I contacted my McHenry County Board representative to ask why the County issues checks with first and last names reversed. I earn a small stipend from an agency associated with the Mental Health Board, and I had noticed that my checks were made out to Philpott Gus.

My initial belief was that either there was a programming error in the County's computer checkwriting department or there was a data entry problem at the agency level.

When I asked at the agency level, I got no response. I don't particularly care for being shunned at any level, so I asked my County Board member to look into it. She did and promptly got back to me and told me the problem was corrected. And, sure enough, I started receiving checks payable to Gus Philpott.

Man, I'm powerful; right? Just point out a problem, ask for help, and the problem gets fixed. Right? Wrong!

Others who receive the same stipend still receive checks payable to, for example, Doe John. At least, as of yesterday, 2-3 months after "my" error was fixed.

What happened was the system or data entry problem was not fixed; only an adjustment was made to my check.

Surely, someone - somewhere - in County government is responsible for seeing that things are done right, especially when problems are identified. And for seeing things that are wrong and fixing them, without a resident's input. I am frequently reminded of the saying, "If you don't have time to do it right the first time, you certainly don't have time to do it over."

In McHenry County, that saying should probably be amended to "... to do it over and over and over."

English Language

Do callers to a business or organization expect to be understood, and should they be able to understand the words and message of the person at that business who answers the telephone?

There is one organization in McHenry County that I call fairly frequently. It has assigned the telephone duties to a very nice woman who does not speak English as her first language. This means that she appears not to always understand the questions asked of her, and her replies often cannot be understood.

I approve and applaud bilingual skills in a business, especially in one that serves the Hispanic community as a small part of its business. But for 90% of its telephone business (my estimate), why would an organization place an employee with verbal communication challenges in the important position of telephone receptionist?

The whole immigration and English as the official language is perhaps finally having an impact on me. Frankly, I am sick and tired of having to repeat and explain myself when I ask such a simple question as "What time does the debriefing with a certain visiting inspection team start on Friday?" The organization here is a small operation; it's not like I'm calling the Social Security office in Washington, D.C.

So I say, speak out. If you have opinions on this issue, contact senior management in businesses with which you deal, and tell them how you feel. Tell them what you expect and what you want them to do about the problem. And, if they don't do it, ask for an explanation.

Memorial Day 2007

As I read an office memo this week as we approach the Memorial Day week-end, I read, “Have a safe and happy holiday.”

Again I was reminded of the importance of this week-end and the often unthinking expression used to wish someone a happy week-end. Is it appropriate to wish someone a “happy week-end” on Memorial Day? Just what does Memorial Day celebrate or, better, commemorate?

I remember my “learning experience” bout the Memorial Day week-end some 40 years ago. At the time I was a life insurance salesman in the Chicago Loop, and I had taken an insurance client to our doctor for an insurance physical on the Friday afternoon preceding the Memorial Day week-end. As we left the doctor’s office after the examination, I thanked the doctor and wished him a nice week-end.

The look of surprise on his face told me that I had not said the right thing. He and I never spoke about it, but I “got” the message. Memorial Day is not about having a “nice” week-end. It is about remembering the sacrifice of those who gave their lives in battle for us, so that we can be free and safe in our homeland.

And so I ask you to consider what expression is appropriate for this week-end. Many people don’t think about the words they use and will routinely say, “Have a nice holiday.” Would a better choice of words be, “Have a solemn, respectful and safe holiday.”

Thursday, May 17, 2007

Time Off/Good Behavior

Can it be true? Paris Hilton gets time off for good behavior, even before she begins serving her 45-day sentence in California? Could be...

Hilton was sentenced to 45 days in the slammer for violating terms of her probation for a previous driving offense and was to report about June 5 for jail time. Now it is being reported that her sentence has been cut to 23 days for good behavior. It appears she is even getting good-time credit for having shown up for a court date!

What a joke California justice is for the rich and famous! First the judge said he was cutting her no breaks. Now her sentence is already down to one-half, and she's going to a celebrity holding pen. Why not stick her in with the general population? Give her a taste of what real people experience in jail. Then, and only then, might she decide to seriously consider changing some of her ways.

Should she serve the entire 45 days in with the general population? What do you think?

Tuesday, May 15, 2007

Cell Phones on Airplanes?

Have you thought you might favor a change in rules that would allow the use of cell phones on airplanes in flight? Think again...

On today's flight from ORD to Columbia, S.C., the plane was delayed two hours on the ground. We were all jammed into a UAL/Mesa Airways small regional jet, and passengers were allowed to use their cell phones while the plane waited in line on the taxiway.

What a racket! It was ridiculous! 15-20 passengers were using their phones. Now, imagine 100-200 passengers on a full-size jet chattering away at 31,000 feet....

Write your favorite airline and the FAA and insist that the current rule not be changed! When the aircraft door closes, cell phones should be turned off.

Gas - $2.88/gal.

Really? $2.88? Where can I buy gas at this price?

Not in Woodstock. That's for sure. Yesterday's price for regular unleaded was $3.39 at the Mobil on N. Seminary.

This afternoon I flew to Columbia, S.C. As the plane approached the airport, a large advertising sign could be seen from the air: $2.88. And, sure enough, that was the price at several gas stations between the airport and downtown.

Can taxes account for $0.51/gal. in McHenry County? Is it time for drivers to bear down on politicians and oil companies and create a strategy and tactics to drive prices lower?

We all know the price of gas is ridiculous, yet we keep on driving all the miles we drive, idling in all the drive-through lanes at the pharmacy and local eateries, and idling with the A/C on while a passenger runs into Jewel.

Let's cut consumption! Less demand = lower prices. You know - - the old supply-and-demand game.

Monday, May 14, 2007

Woodstock PD’s Radar Trailer - better read this

How many times have you driven by the radar speed trailer on a Woodstock street and checked your speedometer?

I’ve tried to do this 2-3 times each year with both vehicles, so that I’d have an idea how accurate my speedometer was.

Today I found out that that’s about all I’ll learn – “about” how accurate my speedometer is. I had thought, up until today, that the speed displayed by the radar trailer was accurate. And why not? Radar speed measurement is accurate, isn’t it? Well, isn’t it? No. Not only “No”, but NO!!!

The radar unit in the speed trailer is not calibrated, which means it is not accurate for measuring speed.

I have recommended to the Woodstock Police Department that they install a sign on the radar trailer, reading “Not to be used to check your speedometer”.

Up until today I thought a radar trailer served a useful purpose, and previously I had recommended to the police department that it post the schedule of deployment for the radar trailer on the City’s website. Good thinking, eh? A public service? Let drivers drive by and check their speedometers.

My thought was that the police department could liven up its website with a photo of the radar trailer, maybe some flashing red and blue lights, a changeable speed read-out on the radar trailer display. Something clever and attention-getting. You know, create a little spark and excitement on the City’s dull and boring website. But it ain’t gonna happen…

Nooooo, bad thinking. The City doesn’t want a lot of drivers (as if a “lot” of drivers would do so) passing by the radar trailer and increasing traffic in the neighborhood of the radar trailer. Part of this I can understand. But it’s not like everybody in town is just waiting for the weekly deployment schedule to be published, so that they can line up and roar by the radar trailer.

If you want to know whether your speedometer is accurate, you are going to have to find a shop with a speedometer calibration device. I had my speedometer calibrated in Denver. What I did was drive my car onto a rack and then stop it with the power wheels on rollers. Then I put it in Drive and let the engine spin the drive wheels, which turned the rollers and caused my “speed” to read out on a meter. I never had great faith in that equipment, but they did give me a card as proof that I had had my speedometer certified.

I do thank Deputy Chief John Neuzil for providing the details about the speed trailer in a prompt and courteous reply to my inquiry.

State Police Nab 150MPH Speeder

Three cheers for the Illinois State Police, District 2, headquartered in Elgin.

Today’s Northwest Herald reports that McHenry County is finally receiving traffic enforcement services!

I moved to Woodstock early in 1996 and in the fall began commuting to the Sears headquarters in Hoffman Estates. On a daily basis I was immediately a target of aggressive drivers on Route 47 between Woodstock and Huntley, because I “poke along” at the posted speed limit. You can imagine the outrage of many drivers. “How dare that person just go the speed limit!!!”

The abuse got so bad that I designed a “ticket” form and faxed it to police departments after arriving at home in the evening. I would note the descriptions and license plates of the worst offenders, fill out the form, and fax it to Woodstock, Huntley, Algonquin, West Dundee, East Dundee and Hoffman Estates Police Departments. I would often fax 8-10 forms each work day.

I laughed one day, when I got home from work and found a message on my answering machine from a deputy with the Kane County Sheriff’s Department. His message? “Stop faxing us your reports. You are wasting paper and toner in our fax machine.” Did I stop? Of course not!!!

It was faster, more complete and more economical for them to receive my information in written form, plus it left a paper trail. My goal was to get them to pay more attention to the incidence of speeding, tailgating, illegal passing, aggressive driving and road rage.

The Illinois State Police ticketed a driver for 150MPH on Kishwaukee Valley Road, according to this morning’s Northwest Herald. Does anyone remember reading about this in the paper?

The Illinois State Police ticketed drivers at a 61.5% rate (2,000 tickets, 1,250 warnings). I have suggested they move this up to 95%. I’d like to see them spending more time on moving violations and less time on safety checks and seatbelt compliance.

How about you? How much over the speed limit do you drive? And why? What does “Speed Limit” mean to you? It’s not the minimum speed on a stretch of roadway…

Saturday, May 12, 2007

Stamps – up “only” 2¢

In 1968 a first-class stamp was 6¢. This is within the lifetime of most who will read this. In 2007 a first-class stamp will cost 41¢. How big an increase is this? 583%!

Whatever happened to efficiencies gained through volume? No doubt volume of mail has increased. The USPS has spent millions on equipment to sort and handle mail more efficiently. I guess we should be appreciative that rates have gone up “only” 583%.

What the public doesn’t know is the salaries of postal workers. If it did, there would be a revolution!

When I lived in Santa Fe in 1992, I went into the Post Office one day to buy ten postal cards. You know ... the ones with the stamps already on them. There was no line and I walked right up the counter and told the window clerk what I wanted.

He took a stack of postal cards from his drawer and slowly fanned them. Then he began counting. One…… two……. …… three …. ….. (You can see where this is going; right?)

I looked at the clock and saw that the time was 2:15. Then I said to the clerk, “You close at 5:00; right? I’m not going to get locked in for the night, am I?” (No response, as he continued to stare at the cards and counted slowly toward “10”.) After paying for the postal cards, I went to the door marked “Postmaster.” A woman answered, identified herself as the Assistant Postmaster and invited me into her office.

I told her about my experience and added, “That clerk out there is stoned.”

“No, he was just being careful,” she said. She told me that he had just finished paying back a $600 shortage in his drawer, and that was why he was counting so slowly and carefully.

“Oh, you caught him stealing and you can’t fire him because the union is too strong?”

She allowed as to how she couldn’t comment on that, but her expression told me that I had hit the nail right on the head! I stated again that I thought, from his glassy-eyed, blank expression, that he was stoned. Then I asked how much he earned.

The Assistant Postmaster said that she couldn’t tell me how much he earned, so I asked how much the window clerk position paid.


“What?!!! $33,000???” I could tell from her reaction that she felt a little uneasy with my expression of outrage. I assured her that I meant her no harm, but that I was extremely upset to learn that a window clerk selling stamps would earn $33,000/year. I suggested she fire him and go down to the 7-11 and hire away a clerk there – then give that clerk a raise to $7.00/hour and provide better service to customers.

What do postal window clerks earn today? $40,000? $50,000? $1,000/week? For selling stamps? It’s no wonder that a first-class stamp is now 41¢!

And those Forever Stamps? A good idea? What will keep people from buying up a bunch of them just before the next rate increase? Only one thing. No supply. Just wait and watch. When the next rate increase is announced, will there be a mysterious shortage of Forever Stamps?

Friday, May 11, 2007

Yellow Lines on the Road

Just what do those solid yellow lines mean on the roadway?

You know the ones... the yellow lines in the middle of the road. The solid ones. The ones that mean "Don't pass" and "Don't drive on me."

Woodstock has a moderate problem on Route 47 with drivers who create their own special lanes because they are "special" people. They sort of look like ordinary people, but they must be "special" because they drive right up the middle of the road with complete disregard for traffic laws and safety.

You know how the left-turn lane curves out from the through lane, so that you have a protected place to stop and where you, hopefully, won't get rear-ended while you are waiting to turn left? The solid yellow lane lines mark the beginning of the left-turn lane.

Why do so many drivers drive into the middle of the road early and bypass those patient, law-abiding drivers who are waiting to reach the curve-out and enter the left-turn lane lawfully? Because they are rude? stupid? uncaring? ignorant? impatient? busy? Oh, now, "busy". There's a good one. Can you imagine Paris Hilton telling the judge that she is a "busy person" and has people to tell her what to sign? She's lucky the judge didn't toss her in the clink for contempt of court!

Law-abiding drivers are endangered when they wait for the beginning of the left-turn lane to enter it. Why? Because there might be a supermom tearing up the middle lane in her SUV, chatting on her cell phone, drinking her Starbuck's latte, yelling at the kids, heading for the soccer game. Or a redneck in his huge pick-up truck, bullying his way up the road and too busy to wait for traffic to move.

Not only had you better signal before entering the left-turn lane, you'd better look in your outside mirror AND look over your left shoulder to make darned sure that the roadway is really empty, and then look again!. Otherwise, that strange noise of metal scraping on metal will be a very expensive sound.

Okay, so the problems are on Route 47 - at Lake Avenue (both directions); at McConnell Road southbound; at Country Club Road (both directions); at Judd St./Irving Road; at McHenry Avenue.

And around the County? Try Route 31 in McHenry and Route 31 in Algonquin. It's a huge problem in both places!!!

May Garden Club Winner!

Drive by 402 South Jefferson and check out the yard of Woodstock Garden Club’s monthly winner, Tom and Jane Letourneau.

I couldn’t begin to name all the plants in the yard or to give enough credit (no money, just credit) for the days of hard work to create a place of beauty in Woodstock.

I met Tom and Jane shortly after moving to Woodstock in March 1996. Can it be 11 years already? Tom has been working on his front, side and back yards forever, and this month’s recognition is well-deserved. Their house and yard are also well-decorated at Halloween with many homemade decorations.

Somebody already beat me to the first autograph! But I heard it’ll be offered on eBay…

Congratulations, Tom and Jane!!!

Speeding Car Salesmen

Have you ever gotten sick and tired of being tailgated by the driver of a car with no front license plate, only to see that it’s a new car salesman when he speeds past? Well, this has happened twice this week.

Aside from being generally ticked off to see dealer tags on new cars being used for commuting and coffee runs and running the kids to school (because the dealer pays about $5-7 for the dealer tag, instead of thousands of dollars of sales or use tax to own the car and put a real license plate on it), I happen to believe that drivers ought to obey traffic laws. I know, I know; I’m the only person in Illinois who still believes this.

What can you do about it?

Next time you get irritated at the illegal, reckless or rude driving of a car with dealer tags, just call the dealer! For new cars, dealers will often have their advertising where the front license plate is supposed to go, and the dealer tag is easily identifiable by its tan color and the abbreviation DLR. Be sure to note the number and letter(s).

Where do you get the dealer’s name? Quite often you’ll catch up with the speeder at the next red light. Just read it right off the license plate frame around the license plate. You’ll see the dealer’s name, city and phone number.

Ideally, the owner or general manager of a dealership will be receptive to a call from you about illegal driving of one of his vehicles. The adverse publicity is bad, and the risk of increased insurance rates is ever present, when that salesman wrecks a new car out of a dealer’s inventory.

This week’s culprits?

Tuesday: A grey BMW (DLR 064G) from Patrick BMW that tailgated me “hard” on eastbound Route 62 in Hoffman Estates before passing me.

Thursday: A black Acura MDX (DLR 4700AV) from Mullen Woodfield Acura speeding about 52MPH in a 35MPH zone on Higgins approaching Golf Road. The male driver was yacking away on his cell phone. Where was he headed? Dunkin’ Donuts! How do I know this? I followed him in, so that I could read the license plate frame with the dealer name!

Almost all dealerships now have websites, on which you can send an email about incidents like these, if you don’t want to phone. It’s faster, smoother, and you avoid a long wait on “Hold” while the operator tries to find the General Manager, Sales Manager or Owner. It also provides them with the details in writing. Hopefully, the manager will wave it under the nose of the salesman and tell him to slow down.

And who knows? You might get a real apology and feel so good about the reception of your complaint that you decide to go there for a test drive and buy a car from them. Be sure to buy a Lottery ticket while your luck is holding!

Thursday, May 10, 2007

Historic Square – Really?

This week’s Woodstock Independent reported on the May 1 Woodstock City Council decision to levy a $6,500 fine “of-record” against Mike Levitan, owner of the Waverly Gold Note Lounge and Board member of the Woodstock Chamber of Commerce. It was noteworthy that TWI did not define “fine of record.” Is this a fine that Mike will have to pay, or is it on paper only?

In my usual shoot-from-the hip mode, I offer the following after reading and re-reading the article, trying to figure out just what happened.

Remodeling and renovation of a property within the Historic District is (well, we thought…) tightly controlled to preserve the integrity of the Square. Maybe this is why some of the buildings look like slums and haven’t been remodeled in years; let’s call it - - decades!

Why did the City Council cave in on this? A year ago a decision was made and a Certificate of Appropriateness (now there’s a catchy title) was issued. As we all know, the project has dragged on and on. No doubt it has become expensive, and even more costly than at first projected. But what’s new about that? Just check out the over-runs already projected for the County’s animal shelter in the old State Farm building in Crystal Lake.

When did it become possible for contractors to guess at costs (oh, wait; these are called Estimates) and then get away with huge additional expenses or, worse, errors?

So Mike started making some changes. And then, according to TWI, he had to “make quick business decisions, which led to him (more correctly, his) not getting in touch with city staff.” Oh, really? What business decision had to be made so quickly that he didn’t have time to dial 815-338-4300? Maybe those extra first-three digits used up the available time???

TWI stated that “Extending electrical power to his building alone cost $6,500.” What happened to the electrical power that was already there??? The building had electricity! Did the architect design a change in location for electric meters? Did the City approve the plans? Were the electric meters placed in/on property not owned by Mike, and he had to move them? Is that what cost $6,500? So is this why the Mayor suggested that Mike should not have been obligated to pay the $6,500?

Councilman Mike Turner got it right, when he commented on the deviations from the original plan.

What the City Council should have done, and should do at the next Council meeting, is require Mike to perform under the original Certificate. He should create the front of the building the way it was designed and approved. Otherwise, Mike is getting away with thumbing his nose at the City and at the City Council, and the Square will live with an eye-sore for years … until the next remodeling in, say, 50-75 years.

If the Woodstock Square is ever going to come back to life and be a true historic Square, then the building facades are going to have to look like it. Having those cheap-looking white window frames does not fit in with “historic”.

I laughed when I read the quoted remarks of Attorney Doreen Paluch and Chamber Executive Director Quinn Keefe. I’ll tell you what’s disgusting - - that Mike Levitan is getting away with not complying with the terms of the Certificate of Appropriateness; that’s what is disgusting. As for Quinn’s comment, there wouldn’t have been any fine at all, if Mike’s plan had put the electric meters on his own property in the first place.

The message needs to loud and clear from the City Council. When you make a deal, you are going to stick to it. Don’t come back later, whining for a change.

So now … about the fine…. When will Mike fork over the $6,500? Oh, it’s only of-record, you say? What does that mean???

Sunday, May 6, 2007

Driver Re-Examination

Is there a way to get unsafe drivers off the road? Yes!

A seldom-used provision of the Illinois Vehicle Code allows a police officer to cite a driver for re-examination, when he believes the driver may not be entitled to hold a driver’s license.

When should it be applied?

This morning I observed an elderly man leaving the driver’s seat of a minivan parked in front of a local church. The man’s mobility was so impaired that he could not walk without holding onto the side of the vehicle. As he moved forward, he could move his feet only in short, unsteady steps.

How might this affect his driving?

If he were driving his vehicle, I would expect that he would have great difficulty in pressing the accelerator gently with his foot and then have even greater difficulty in quickly moving his foot from the accelerator to the brake pedal for an emergency stop.

Panic might also set in, if he accidentally pressed on the accelerator and did not quickly comprehend what was causing the vehicle to increase its forward speed. In the time it would take to understand and react, an elderly driver might enter an intersection against a red light, drive across a crosswalk and hit pedestrians, fail to stop for a school bus - - - you name it.

Keeping one’s driver’s license is very important, but the ability (and confidence) to operate a motor vehicle safely is even more important.

When I was teaching the AARP Driver Safety Program, I joked with each class that, when I am too old to drive my car safely, I hope I’ll still be able to ride my motorcycle!

Information about driver re-examination is available from Illinois Secretary of State Jesse White’s office. Call (800) 252-8980.

Saturday, May 5, 2007

Shop Bohn’s ACE Hardware

Shopping today in Woodstock’s ACE Hardware reminded me once again how valuable the local hardware store is. My needs are always small: nuts & bolts, a quart of lawnmower engine oil, a smoke alarm or a CO detector.

What I can count on at Bohn’s ACE Hardware is finding someone who can help me find that little item. I appreciate this level of personal service, especially in view of the cost to them to provide it.

What we need to do in Woodstock is support our long-time local stores. Rather than dashing off to Wal-Mart or Menard’s where we might save $5-10, or even a little more, remember that ACE Hardware – 75 years in Woodstock – is where you can go to get advice and directions to the right aisle or bin, or even be guided there and helped to find it.

It has got to be incredibly challenging to provide this level of service, when the mass merchandisers and cost-cutters come to town. Those big guys will stay in business. WE need to help the little guys stay in business.

Osco Pharmacy - - Slooooooowwwwww

My own standards for customer service are high. Well, correct that…. Super High. Perhaps almost unattainable, some would say. I give great customer service and I expect great customer service.

What I must settle for is good customer service and, too often, much less. Here’s a recent example.

While waiting this morning in a short line at the Woodstock Osco Pharmacy, I noticed the line wasn’t moving. The clerk was engaged in a friendly conversation with a customer, and it didn’t seem to be always on the business being conducted. There was no sense of urgency on the part of the clerk, even though the length of the line of waiting customers was increasing.

The clerk left the window a couple of times to check on the customer’s order and meandered back. After a few minutes, when the clerk started away from the window one more time, I interrupted her and asked if another clerk could come to the second customer position and help those of us who were waiting. The response was, “We are short-handed today.”

After further delay, that transaction was completed, and the woman in front of me moved up to the window. About that time a store manager passed me and I stepped out of line to make my complaint in person, since it did not appear that the pharmacy manager was on duty. I have spoken with him previously to voice my complaints about how the clerks completely disregard the line of waiting customer and how there is no sense of urgency on their part to complete the transactions efficiently.

Then one of the younger pharmacy associates opened the second window. When she waited on me in a friendly manner, I thanked her for opening the second window and for noticing that customers were waiting.

When the pharmacy manager is on duty, window service is better. But, when she is not, the employees behind the counter are in no hurry to wait on customers. Banks train tellers in their “heads-up” policy. It works this way. When a teller notices customers waiting in line, she acknowledged them – with a nod, a wave, a word. She doesn’t just ignore them.

Osco tells me they train employees in the “heads-up” service. But they don’t monitor employees to see if they use it!

It may be that the Woodstock Osco pharmacy needs to make some personnel changes. Simple re-training should suffice. If it doesn’t, then you give those people an opportunity to be happily employed – elsewhere! The consequences of not doing so? More and more customers will find another, friendly pharmacy not too far away.

Mercy Woodstock Telephone Hours – Grade? F

Do medical patients often think of things they need from the doctor or the medical clinic at the end of the day? Can you get through? Do you get the night or week-end answering service when you call?

How can “customer service” be so poor? Maybe we need Dr. Reyes to picket at Mercy Woodstock, just as he did – with great success – at Woodstock’s Memorial Medical Center hospital.

The medical service at Mercy Woodstock is good, just as it is at Memorial Medical Center. The customer service (or patient services) from non-medical staff needs a lot of improvement at Mercy Woodstock.

Don’t tell me to contact them and complain (or offer suggestions). I have done so already. Perhaps what is needed is for a LOT of people to complain.

Yesterday I attempted to pick up a prescription at the Woodstock Osco. The pharmacy had faxed the doctor at Mercy Woodstock for a new prescription on Thursday, and the doctor had not replied yet. Looking back, I should not have delayed and should not have expected the “system” to work; i.e., that the doctor would respond on Friday and provide the necessary prescription.

When I telephoned Mercy Woodstock at 11:45AM today (Saturday), the phones had already been switched to the week-end answering service! They switch their phones at 11:30AM. Dumb!

While I am sure that the financial pressures from Janesville are high, the clinic must provide decent availability. Unless things have changed recently, their phones go on “Night Service” at 4:30PM on Monday through Friday.

Result? Now it will be at least Monday before the prescription can be filled. I will have to call on Monday and insist that they contact the pharmacy without further delay.

See another posting for how Osco Pharmacy conducts itself, when a doctor doesn’t respond to a faxed request for a prescription.

Friday, May 4, 2007

Fire Trucks - No License Plates

(This posting was edited on May 7 to reflect new information.)
Last month I wrote about the fire engines and paramedic vehicles of the Woodstock Fire/Rescue District parking illegally in the Fire Lane at the Woodstock Recreation Center, when the firefighters and paramedics are there to work out on the exercise equipment, play basketball and/or swim.

My reading of the Illinois Vehicle Code indicates that this parking is strictly illegal, but I have not been able to persuade the Fire Chief (who also is a City Councilman), the Police Chief, the City Manager or the Mayor that the fire trucks and ambulances are parking there illegally. The law is quite clear and sets out conditions under which a fire truck can park in a fire lane – they must be there as an emergency response and their emergency lights must be operating. The City refuses to get a legal opinion from the City Attorney.

When I drove by the Woodstock Recreation Department at 3:00PM on May 4, I saw two fire trucks (E32 and E35) in the Fire Lane and stopped to photograph them. While I was taking the pictures, I noticed that there was no front license plate on one truck. Then I noticed there was no front license plate on the other fire truck. Walking around to the rear of each fire truck, I noticed that there are no rear license plates, either.

I called a desk officer (sergeant) of the Illinois State Police and he told me that fire trucks are required to display license plates. (This turned out to be incorrect.)

After speaking with the ISP sergeant, I was pretty sure that license plates were required on fire trucks, because they are motor vehicles. Then I telephoned the Police Department and left a message for the Chief, asking why the fire engines didn't have license plates.

As I thought more about this over the week-end and checked with other fire departments in the area (with mixed responses), I decided to call the Ilinois Secretary of State Police office in Rockford. They are the specialists in truck enforcement. The desk officer there today checked the Illinois Vehicle Code and explained the exception for fire trucks. So it turns out that they don't have to have license plates, whereupon I called the office of the Woodstock Police Chief to let him know what I had learned on May 7.

This doesn't change my determination that they are to be parked legally while WFRD employees are working out at the rec center. That issue is still open.

Tuesday, May 1, 2007

Raffel Road (Wrong) Speed Limits

On Raffel Road from St. Johns Road to the north City Limit of Woodstock are several incorrect speed limit signs. Speed limits are posted higher than the applicable city ordinances call for. The City is looking into it.

In March I let the Public Works Department know that there appeared to be two speed limit signs missing on northbound Raffel Road. It’s just one of the things I “notice.” I don’t drive around, looking for what’s wrong or out-of-place; I just happen to notice these things. Generally speaking, speed limits on two-lane streets and roads are the same in opposite directions. If you are in a 40MPH northbound, then the speed limit is mostly likely 40MPH southbound on the same stretch of road. For some strange reason, I look at the other signs to see if they are.

But on Raffel Road they aren’t. I decided to check with the City for the legal speed limit description according to ordinances passed by the City Council, and so I initiated a request to the City Manager’s office. About two weeks later I received a nice note and copies of two maps that were prepared by the director of Public Works, John Isbell, showing the speed zones between St. Johns Road and the City Limit north of Ware Road.

Then I wrote to the Public Works Department to ask for a review of the existing signing. It seems to me that, when someone writes in and asks for a review of something, that ought to signal the reader that there might be a problem.

When there was no acknowledgement or response (or corrective action) from Public Works, I contacted the City Manager’s office and even faxed a diagram of the speed signs and the actual signing. I was pleased to receive the reply that signing would be reviewed and, if needed, correction would be scheduled when signs are available and the City’s schedule permits.

So what, exactly, is the problem? According to the map from the City, there are speed zones north of Banford of 35MPH, 40MPH and 50MPH.

The 35MPH speed limit for northbound traffic is almost at the point where the 40MPH zone begins.

A 40MPH zone exists between about Marge Lane and Ware Road, but it is marked with a 45MPH sign.

The 50MPH zone north from Ware Road is correctly signed.

For southbound drivers entering Woodstock there is a 50MPH sign north of Ware Road. According to the map, the speed limit drops to 40MPH at Ware Road, but there is no 40MPH sign.

The next sign that greets a southbound driver is a 45MPH sign at Marge Lane; however, that’s where a 35MPH speed zone starts. Confused yet? Imagine how the poor police officer feels.

There is a 35MPH sign in the middle of the southbound 35MPH speed zone and a correct 30MPH sign at the beginning of the 30MPH speed zone southbound.

Let’s say you drive into Woodstock from the north on Raffel Road. Like many people, you might be driving 5-8 MPH over the limit. You see the 50MPH sign, so you’re running about 58MPH. Suddenly there are bright lights behind you, and the officer informs you that you were traveling 58MPH in a 40MPH zone. “But the sign said 50,” you say. “Yeah, well, they’ve been meaning to change that,” he replies. "Sign here."

Could it happen?