Sunday, April 29, 2007

Garage Sale Signs – How far???

Whatever possessed the holder of a garage sale at 14411 Ryan Court to trash up Woodstock on Sunday morning with bright red, gaudy, garage sale signs all the way west on South Street from the railroad tunnel?

Do you think that maybe, just maybe, residents know that Woodstock’s Code Enforcement Officer doesn’t work week-ends, and so they are in the clear to put up their signs far from home?

The signs for the garage sale at 14411 Ryan Court were about 2’ x 3’ and were tacked to utility poles and posts at South & Madison Sts., South & Dean Sts., South & Throop Sts., South & Tryon Sts., South & Hayward Sts., South & Putnam Sts., South & Gerry Sts. and there were directional arrows at on South St. at Tara Dr., south of Tara Dr. and south of Duvall Dr.

What Woodstock needs is a garage sale ordinance with some teeth in it and some muscle behind it.

We’re at the beginning of the garage sale season, and it looks like we’re behind the curve already. The City Scene may have carried an article about garage sale signs, but how many people read it from cover to cover?

Here’s what Woodstock should do… Buy some advertising space in The Woodstock Independent and the Northwest Herald. Publicize the garage sale ordinance. Include a strong message in the required $2.00 garage sale kit/permit that a garage sale holder “must” buy from the City.

And then do something about it. And publicize the enforcement activities. With photographs.

Last year I inquired – read, “inquired” – about the legality of removing illegal signs from the public right-of-way in Woodstock. Man, did I get slammed! I had emailed the Chief of Police to ask if it would be illegal. The City Manager replied and sternly admonished me to refrain from removing any signs that were not on my own property. Now that was pretty clear… Why would I want to get arrested for cleaning up Woodstock?

I thought the reply was quite strongly worded, when a simple “It would be unlawful…” would have sufficed. After all, I was asking the question...

OK, so what does the garage sale ordinance say? Go to, click on City Code, search for “garage sale.” Generally speaking, you’ll find that you must have a $2.00 permit and you’d better apply for it on the right City form. Gee, how much does that cost us? Before anyone cries “revenue raising”, calculate how much the City loses by having this ordinance in the first place.

It seems to me that I read an ordinance that limits the distance from the actual garage sale for the placement of advertising signs. I can’t find it on the City’s website at the moment, but I recall that signs could only be placed at the end of the block from the location of the sale. Putting up numerous signs more than a mile from the sale is certainly past that limit!

How should Woodstock enforce the sign limit? First of all, just let residents take down the illegal signs. Direct the beat police officers to relay information to the Code Enforcement Officer about violations and direct him to take enforcement action. If the beat officer has time, direct him to pay a friendly visit on the garage-sale sign violator and briefly explain the ordinance. He could “suggest” that the owner go immediately and remove unlawful signs.

We don’t want police officers tied up on nuisance calls about ordinances, when they have higher priority calls. Sunday mornings in Woodstock? Not much going on…

Saturday, April 28, 2007

Home-made Casket

Have you ever been so frustrated with a retailer that you said you would never do business with that store again? What did you do about? Just go away? Never shop there again? Or did you made a statement or take a memorable action to get its attention? Did it work?

When I worked in National Customer Relations for a Fortune 50 retailer, I was lucky enough to handle some of the very few complaints that made it through all the filters and reached the headquarters. Usually, complaints were handled by customer service representatives with little authority or discretion.

One day I opened a small box addressed only to “CEO” that arrived at the headquarters. In it was a small, handmade, wooden casket containing a broken drill bit and a long letter from the customer. He explained how he had been a customer of that chain for 48 years, owned thousands of dollars worth of tools and home appliances, and how he had restored two old fire trucks to parade condition and had full sets of tools (sold by this retailer) on both trucks, in case of breakdown while going to or returning from a parade.

He had bought a drill bit ($8.00) and it had broken the first time he used it. When he went to the store to return and exchange it, the store refused. Employees and managers claimed that a drill bit was not a "hand" tool, which would have been covered under its lifetime guarantee; instead, it was part of a power tool and not covered. They must have really given him a hard time, because he spent days fashioning a small wooden casket as the final resting place for the drill bit. Then he cut up his credit cards and glued them into the lid.

The little casket is a fine piece of work. It is shaped and curved just like a casket. The top is fitted and rests snugly on the bottom part. He even carved a cross into the wood of the lid and carved the dates of his credit card. Everything but R.I.P.

At the particular time when his complaint arrived, "CEO complaints" were being handled by the Law Department, and I reluctantly turned over the letter and casket to them. As I handed the casket to one of the attorneys, I said, "If this doesn't go on the CEO's desk right under one of those little spotlights in the ceiling, I'd like to have it."

I called him every other day to ask for the casket, and about two weeks later he gave it to me (minus the two cut-up credit cards). I later learned that a secretary had mailed a small Gift Card to the former customer. I don't think anyone ever called him.

He wasn't interested in a $10 Gift Card. This customer was mad! Had I called him, I suspect we would have ended up having a great conversation and the store chain would have regained his business. What he wanted was for someone to HEAR what he was complaining about. That didn't happen. Beyond me, I don't think anyone appreciated how mad he had to have been to take the time to craft that little casket and send it in with his long letter.

What experiences have you had, when you have made a complaint to a retailer?

$150 Over-Charge for Driver’s Education

On April 28, 2007 the Northwest Herald carries an article on Page 6B about McHenry High Schools' Driver’s Education fees. If you had, have or will have a student in any driver’s education, be sure to read it. Go to and search for keyword “Vanover”.

Two years ago I raised this exact issue with Woodstock District 200 and asked them to explain and justify why a student was charged more than the $50 State-mandated maximum fee for driver’s education. Students were assessed $150 for the Between-the-Wheel driver training program. As I dug into the issue and learned about a Waiver that the Illinois State Board of Education would grant, I found that, yes, it was improper to include teacher salaries in the expenses of operating the driver’s education program. Salaries were to be covered as an expense of the high school and school district. HOWEVER, if the District filed an application for Waiver with ISBE for higher expenses and went ahead and listed salaries and IF ISBE approved the Waiver, then the high school could charge more than the $50 State maximum fee, even though an improper (illegal) expense (salaries) was included in their calculations.

And so a number of “creative” school districts did just that, including Woodstock D200. What I was unable to figure out was why and how ISBE could approve a violation of State law and why D200 would ask ISBE to approve a violation of the law. But it did, and they did. The result is that hundreds of students have paid an extra $150 to take driver’s education – a course required for graduation.

What should students and their parents do now? File complaints with District 200 and demand a refund of the $150 that they were over-charged.

Better yet, D200 should do the “right” thing and, before students and parents can begin to file complaints, D200 should be pro-active and inform parents that the excess fees will be returned promptly and start issuing checks!

Friday, April 27, 2007

Cary-Grove H.S. Stupidity

I’ve been following the wild turmoil in Cary involving the Cary-Grove High School student whose essay has resulted in a Disorderly Conduct charge against him.

Disorderly Conduct apparently occurs when someone feels alarmed or disturbed by another’s actions. I’ll have to remember this one.

Based on newspaper reporting, my opinion is that this complaint by the teacher and D155 staff is one of the dumbest things ever to happen in McHenry County. I thought about emailing Cary-Grove High School Principal Susan Popp and teacher Nora Capron, but then I remembered a Witness Tampering charge levied in McHenry County after a person, not the alleged offender, contacted the supposed victim to ask that charges be dropped.

Talk about intimidation! Will everyone have to hunker down now and be afraid to voice an opinion?

I am alarmed and disturbed by the actions of the teacher and the D155 staff and the Cary Police Department and the McHenry County State’s Attorney’s office. Should I go to authorities and file Disorderly Conduct charges against them? But where do I go to file them?

Or should I file a Disorderly Conduct charge against the Woodstock police officer who stopped me for a burned-out headlight right in front of my house and told me he was going to give me a Warning, and then changed his mind after talking with another Woodstock officer and issued a $75.00 ticket to me? Now that certainly alarmed or disturbed me! In fact, it didn’t alarm OR disturb me; it alarmed AND disturbed me!

Or the next time a McHenry County deputy roars up behind me when I am obeying the speed limit and tailgates me for three blocks before turning off? Huh? Is this Disorderly Conduct?

The only right action is the Cary-Grove H.S. case is for the high school and school district to admit to their knee-jerk and wrong action - to admit that they mishandled the entire incident - and to drop all charges. A letter of apology should be issued by the School Board, School District staff and teacher. The Cary Police Department should admit its failure to investigate thoroughly before charging the student with a crime so serious that it threatens his graduation, military service and reputation and which resulted in the huge bond of the tremendous sum of $75.00 to secure his release from jail. SEVENTY-FIVE DOLLARS???!!!

Stupid! Just plain stupid!!!

Ticket Gov. Corzine and His Driver

Much has been in the news about New Jersey Governor Jon S. Corzine and his failure to be buckled up when his N.J. State Police driver was involved in an accident while traveling at 91MPH in a 65MPH zone. According to the Associated Press, New Jersey law requires drivers and front-seat passengers to wear seat belts.

The AP now reports that New Jersey Attorney General Stuart Rabner has commissioned an independent panel of experts to review the state police unit that drives and protects the governor. It is charged with developing guidelines for how the unit operates.

How many times in the past five years have I written to the Office of the Director of the Illinois State Police to ask this same question – are State Police troopers who drive the Illinois Governor expected to obey traffic laws?

I can’t answer that question, but I can tell you how many replies I’ve received – NONE. The absense of a reply means to me that Illinois troopers who drive the Governor may not obey traffic laws. Should they?

Of course, they should. And not only should, but must! If the governor says, “Step on it, Trooper. I’m late,” the trooper/driver must say, “Sorry, Governor. State law says I must not operate my vehicle unlawfully. You are asking me to break the speed limit, and I can’t and won’t do it.”

The only problem with that answer is that about eight hours later, the trooper will be working the midnight shift in Podunksville.

Gov. Corzine should have been ticketed immediately following the accident. His driver should have been ticketed for operating a motor vehicle with an unbuckled front seat passenger AND for the numerous other violations – speeding, improper use of emergency equipment, failure to avoid an accident. Do all these add up to Reckless Driving?

I have seen nothing in the news about any traffic charges against the driver. But that should not be too surprising. Right here in McHenry County, law enforcement officers cause accidents and do not get ticketed. And, around here, news of their accidents often doesn’t even make the newspapers. Is this right?

Wednesday, April 25, 2007

Customer Service - IL SOS-DMV

When you call an Illinois State Government office, what kind of service do you expect? Usually?

It is always refreshing to call the Department of Motor Vehicle Services at the Springfield office of Illinois Secretary of State Jesse White! Every time I call, and I'm a man with a lot of motor vehicle questions, I don't just get good customer service, I get GREAT customer service. Calls are answered in a friendly voice, and agents are ready to serve.

Customer service agents in Springfield are friendly, knowledgeable, and they actually listen before answering. Today was no exception, when I called for information about State IDs - not the driver's license, but the State photo ID card. The agent listened carefully when I told him about what I was calling and that I had a specific question. He answered it thoroughly and in an unhurried manner. He agreed with the point I was making about an illogical requirement, and he explained the legal reasoning behind the requirement.

Other state offices could take a lesson from the delivery of service that residents get, when they call Jesse White's office. Here are the numbers: (800) 252-8980 (prominently displayed on the back cover of the Illinois Rules of the Road) and, for those with unlimited long-distance calling, (217) 782-6212. Why not save us taxpayers a few nickels?

Saturday, April 21, 2007

Another Headlight Out!!!

On Thursday night, as I started my car to leave a meeting in Crystal Lake at 9:00PM, I noticed that I had a headlight out - again! What is going on with my car? What is the Universe setting me up like this for?

Because of my recent run-in with the Woodstock Police over a headlight out (which had gone out on Jan. 13 and been repaired the next day; which had gone out 20 minutes before the cop stopped me, and which went out again on February 19!), I have kept a very close eye on all lights on my car. On January 30 a Woodstock officer stopped me for a burned-out headlight right in front of my house. He said he'd given me a Warning and ten minutes later changed his mind and wrote me a $75.00 ticket because I have been so vocal about traffic law enforcement in the area.

So what was I to do? Leave my car? Walk 12 miles home? Take a $30 cab? Get a $75.00 hotel room?

I decided, since it was the right headlight this time, to drive home. Then I wondered whether to take the back roads or the long way. Nope! I'm taking the shortest route. Right up U.S. 14 and right in on Lake Avenue - right past the police station. I refuse to live in fear!!!

And where do I pass an oncoming Woodstock police car? About a block from the Woodstock police station! There were cars behind him, and there were cars behind me. I couldn't see whether he slowed or turned around. I continued straight home (three more blocks). Or perhaps he thought, "This town is full of cars with headlights out. I'm not stopping that one." Or maybe even, "Gus doesn't deserve another ticket."

I had the headlight replaced on Friday morning. This is the fourth headlight I've replaced since January 1, and my car has only two headlights! When will one of them go out again?

Coroner's Jury - Accidental Death???

Last week I attended a Coroner's Inquest following the beanbag shooting death of a Wonder Lake man last September. I heard all the evidence presented by the lieutenant from the Sheriff's Department and by one resident of the household, and I heard the verdict delivered by the jury after 15 minutes of deliberation.

According to information published by the Office of the Coroner, a jury is instructed to return one of five verdicts: Accidental Death, Suicide, Homicide, Natural Death, or Undetermined. "Accidental Death" is defined for the jurors as "A death caused by an unexpected, unintended, and unforeseeable cause. " Homicide" is defined as "an act purposely, knowingly, recklessly or negligently performed that causes the death of another human being."

Considering the facts presented, the jurors should have returned a verdict of Homicide - justifiable as a shooting to prevent serious harm or death of the deputy who had to shoot or of another deputy. The shooting was not unexpected; it was not unintended, and it was not unforeseen.

The shooting was on and with purpose, and it was done knowingly. The shooting was not recklessly or negligently performed. Blame is not an issue here. According to statements written in the departmental reports of the deputies and to evidence presented at the Inquest, the deputy who shot was protecting himself and another deputy.

Perhaps it is fortunate that other information published by the Office of the Coroner reads that a Coroner's Inquest "is simply an inquiry into the manner and cause of an individual's death."

If a Coroner's Jury does not return correct verdicts, is there any reason to hold Inquests in the first place?

Friday, April 20, 2007

Curran Rd. Nut - Lic. 728 5270

Yesterday’s road crazy of the day award goes to the male driver of a dirty Dodge Magnum with Illinois license plate 728 5270. This driver has been reported to the McHenry Police Department.

At about 6:30PM on April 19 I was poking along southbound on Curran Road in McHenry at the posted speed limit of 40MPH. From Dartmoor to Bull Valley Road, one would think that the speed limit is rural unposted 55MPH, but the City of McHenry has posted one lonely 40MPH sign just south of Dartmoor because the City of McHenry now extends to Bull Valley Road.

I was already aware of one impatient driver, who had been tailgating me from Route 120. But the speed limit is the speed Limit, no matter the thinking behind a City’s planner.

South of Dartmoor and almost to Bull Valley Road suddenly I spotted a driver passing the car behind me. He passed me, too, and he appeared to be traveling about 70MPH in the 40MPH zone. I got his license plate number as he passed me, but I couldn’t get a look at the driver.

Due to heavy cross-traffic on Bull Valley Road, I caught up with the driver at the stop sign, where he turned left. Heavy traffic and a red light delayed him at W. Crystal Lake Road, where I stopped again behind him. He got pretty far ahead of me southbound on W. Crystal Lake Road but caught a red light at Hillside, and I stopped again right behind him. Then he caught a red light at IL 176, and I again stopped behind him. All without any speeding on my part as the speed zones dropped from 50 to 45 to 40 to 30MPH!

While we were stopped at the red light, I photographed the rear of his car and the license plate. He must have been looking in his rearview mirror, because the driver stepped out of his car and gestured toward me, and I photographed him several times. I was en route to a meeting in Crystal Lake and did not go out of my way to follow him.

Unfortunately, there is no prosecutable offense, because I cannot attest accurately to his speed. I have been asking the McHenry Police Department for more than a year to enforce the unreasonably low speed limit on Curran Road and to persuade the City and the McHenry Streets Department to post additional 40MPH signs on Curran Road in both directions. Better yet, the speed limit should be raised!

The 40MPH speed limit is unreasonably low. But, as long as it’s there, it needs to be enforced. McHenry occasionally, and wisely, flags new speed limit signs with orange flags to attract a driver’s attention. They should do this here.

Wednesday, April 18, 2007

Ragging on Bad Drivers

Are you fed up with tailgaters, speeders, those who pass illegally, those dashboard diners, newspaper readers, shaving drivers, drivers applying make-up, cell phone gabbers?

Go to and set up your account. Post details.

In this morning's paper was a report about a head-on accident, injuring several people. Just yesterday I watched two drivers duking it out in my rear-view mirror. One driver had tried to pass several cars and beat us all to a "lane-drop", where two lanes narrowed down to one. The car behind me wouldn't let him in and forced him into the oncoming lane.

I'm telling you - it was scary, watching a car in my mirror in the wrong lane with oncoming traffic. Finally, the other driver yielded. I tried to get the cops to stop him, but you can never find a cop when you need one. When the road widened again to two westbound lanes, the two drivers chased each other out-of-sight.

Gas Prices - Fed up?

Just heard on the radio that unleaded regular gas in San Francisco is $4.06/gal. Went to and San Francisco high price on gas is already higher: $4.09/gal.

Tired of paying the highest price in town and finding gas cheaper a mile down the road? Bookmark and check it out before the needle starts approaching E-flat. Do your part and post prices, too. You might just help me save some money (ThankYouVeryMuch!), and I'll do my part to help you save money at the pump.

Woodstock Downtown Business Association

Several businessowners in "greater metropolitan" Woodstock established the Woodstock Downtown Business Association about a year ago, and they are actually doing something to promote Woodstock. What a novel idea that they would band together to do something and then actually do it!

They deserve wide recognition and appreciation. It is consuming inordinate amounts of volunteer time. YES! They are volunteers. The money they raise is being put to work, not into salaries and benefits.

Check out and say a big THANK YOU to those who are working so hard to bring some L-I-F-E to the Woodstock Square. Have you been to downtown Naperville on a summer night? The sidewalks are crowded and the businesses are open and full of customers. It is vibrant and dynamic.

It's going to take some time to create that in Woodstock, but it CAN be done. Give a sharp elbow to all the naysayers and to those who say, "Been there; done that."

And be sure to patronize the businesses who are doing so much with so little for so many.

September Beanbag Shooting Death

The Coroner’s Inquest into the death of David Maxson last September was held this afternoon at the McHenry County Government Center. It was due to start at 1:00PM, and the jury was seated shortly thereafter. A few minutes later Coroner Marlene Lantz informed those assembled that she was waiting for a witness. A few minutes after that, she explained that the scheduled court reporter hadn’t shown up and that a substitute court reporter was coming from McHenry.

The procedure for an inquest is described by the Office of the Coroner as an “inquiry into the manner and cause of an individual’s death.” David Maxson, 43, died as the result of being shot on September 16, 2006, with a beanbag shotgun, referred to in police lingo as a “less-than-lethal” weapon. The McHenry County Sheriff’s Department had received two 9-1-1 calls that Maxson was suicidal. The first witness was his fiancĂ©e, with whom he lived in Wonder Lake. She described that she had been worried at Maxson’s suicidal statements and actions.

The Coroner’s information explains that “The Coroner will summon to the inquest those individuals who have pertinent information concerning the incident. This often includes, but is not limited to, … police officers and investigators…” The second and only other witness was Lt. Donald Carlson of the McHenry County Sheriff’s Department. No deputy or supervisor who was at the scene at the time of the shooting appeared to testify. Lt. Carlson provided a summary of actions taken by deputies at the scene, but the jury did not have an opportunity to hear first-hand reports from one or more deputies who were directly involved, and they did not have an opportunity to ask questions of those with first-hand knowledge.

The first deputy to arrive was a Crisis-Intervention Trained deputy. I watched her work in another incident, and she is a competent deputy on a mental health call. When Maxson’s emotional level escalated, she was removed as the lead negotiator and the (male) sergeant on the scene took over. Prior to that, Maxson had given up two of the three knives he had been holding, so the CIT deputy was making progress. Although Maxson reportedly threatened deputies, he also is quoted in a report as saying that he could not hurt a female (deputy). Should she have been allowed to continue as the lead negotiator?

It has been a couple of weeks since I’ve read the 12 reports that I obtained under a Freedom of Information request. I’ll be re-reading them and comparing today’s summary of what happened with the reports of the deputies who were there. I have filed a second Freedom of Information Act request to learn the date when the deputy who fired the less-than-lethal shotgun was trained and certified by the Sheriff’s Department. This request was initially denied by the Sheriff’s Department’s FOI officer, who cited “personnel files and information maintained with respect to employees” as being confidential. However, Illinois Freedom of Information law [5 ILCS 140/7(1)(b)] states, “The disclosure of information that bears on the public duties of public employees and officials shall not be considered an invasion of personal privacy." An appeal of the denial has been filed with the Sheriff, and I am awaiting the decision and deputy's date of certification.

I don’t question that the deputy had to shoot when he did. If someone is coming at me or going at you with a knife, I’m going to shoot. The difference is, with what I am going to shoot, or whether some other method of disabling the person with the knife could have been used.

Shortly after this incident back in September I began posting online questions and comments in response to articles appearing in the Northwest Herald. At one point there were more than 200 reader comments. Then they all disappeared. The explanation given to me was that the paper’s server crashed. They were never restored. Because of my law enforcement background and experience with the mental health system in McHenry County, I am anxious that a similar result not occur during a future emergency response by law enforcement, unless it is absolutely the only remaining possibility.

Could this situation have been de-escalated? Did Maxson have to be challenged repeatedly to the extent that it got so bad that he finally rushed toward two deputies with the apparent intent to harm? What would have happened if they had backed off and waited him out? The Coroner reported that his Blood-Alcohol Content was 2.41, and there were no illegal drugs in his body. Obviously, a high BAC and depression are not a good combination.

From the time of arrival of the first deputy at 4:07PM to the time of the shooting at about 4:53PM, only 46 minutes passed. Not a lot of time…

Tuesday, April 17, 2007

Don't Open That Door!

Voting Day is always fun for me. Several years ago, when I lived in Richmond (Va.), I had a button made, reading, "Vote Early & Vote Often." I wear it every Election Day, even on days like today when horrendous expense is involved to do so little voting. Why don't we combine municipal elections with other elections and save us all a lot of money?

I always thank the folks at the polls. When they smile at my button, I always say, "See you later!" Today I only got one "I Voted" sticker, but sometimes they offer me more than one.

But today I almost didn't get to vote. As I entered the Dorr 8 polling place at First United Methodist Church, I was greeted by an imposing sign on a door that read, "By Order of the State Fire Marshal this door must remain CLOSED at all times."

Shhhhh.... I broke the law by opening that door and going through....

Firelane at Jewel-Osco

At the now not-so-new Jewel-Osco in Woodstock is a clearly marked Fire Lane along the curb in front of the store. (Well, not so clearly marked now, since the painted lane lines have faded.)

As soon as the store opened and parking violations began, I wondered why the Fire Lane was not being enforced, and I contacted the Woodstock Police Department to request enforcement. Over the next year I called several times, because drivers would park and stand in the Fire Lane while waiting for passengers to shop. Sometimes, drivers would even park their cars and leave them in the Fire Lane, while they went into the store to shop.

I understood the predicament in which Jewel-Osco would find itself, if a manager called the police to have a vehicle ticketed. Not so great customer relations, right? So why not just let the police handle it? There had been a Vehicular Control Agreement for the old Jewel store’s property. A V.C.A. is a legal agreement between a property owner and the local police department that allows the police to enforce traffic laws on its private property.

After a year of complaints to the Woodstock Police Department I learned that there was no V.C.A. for the new Jewel property. How nice it would have been for them to just tell me up-front that they were not able to enforce the laws because there was no V.C.A.

The next step was to suggest to the Police Department that a V.C.A. be established. After all, shouldn’t a Fire Lane be clear for emergency use? If a fire truck or ambulance is called to Jewel-Osco for an emergency, it needs a place to stop and park. Pretty simple. Not difficult to understand at all… Or is it?

I finally gave up after two more years of asking the Police Department to enter into a V.C.A. Apparently, there are two property owners. One agreed; the second refused, unless the City would pay for signs. So, for $100-200 in sign cost, shoppers and employees of the Jewel-Osco are placed at unnecessary risk in event of a fire, medical emergency, or some other event requiring emergency response.

Actually, it shouldn’t be the Police Department that contacts a property owner/manager about a V.C.A. The police are the enforcement end of things. Community Development or City Planning should have been the City’s contact with the property manager.

There are two parking zones of importance there. One is the Fire Lane. State law reads that there is be NO parking or standing in a Fire Lane. Nothing unclear about that. Even the Woodstock Fire/Rescue District vehicles park out in the parking lot, when firefighters and paramedics come to shop.

The other is the Loading Zone. This is for loading – putting groceries in your car. It is not for waiting or parking.

Have we become a nation of people who willfully disregard even the simplest rules? Why is it tolerated? Gee, it would be nice if there weren’t even any “rules” and people just used common sense.

What are your thoughts when you see a driver who has parked in the Fire Lane?

Monday, April 16, 2007

Woodstock Chamber of Commerce – Booo

I’ve been booted out. Dismissed. Expelled. Excommunicated. Tossed out. Barred. And all without Due Process. Without a hearing. Without a warning. Without even a notice that it happened or was going to happen.

So, what did happen?

I found fault with too many irregularities at the Woodstock Chamber of Commerce. You know the squeaky wheel syndrome? Well, they don’t oil it around here.

In the April 2007 newsletter of the Woodstock Chamber of Commerce this month it is suggested that chamber members tell others about their experience as a way of inducing prospective members to join the chamber.

Well, let me tell you about my experience as a chamber member. First, let me explain that I have lived in many cities across the U.S. since 1965. I’ve belonged to four chambers of commerce as a member, and I have worked for four chambers of commerce, including as Vice-President of Membership Services for a 1,100-member Midwest chamber. I believe I have a pretty clear understanding of the purpose and function of a chamber and what membership services are all about.

A year ago I joined the Woodstock Chamber by signing up through the online application. No one asked me to join. No membership rep came to give me a sales talk. I believed in joining the hometown chamber before joining one in a neighboring town.

The first thing that happened was an error in the amount charged for my membership dues. I had indicated Semi-Annual dues on the application, but the Chamber office charged Annual dues to my credit card. Fortunately, they mailed the receipt for the credit card charge to me and, fortunately, I opened the envelope. The error was corrected as soon as I called the chamber office. That quick correction was the best thing that happened during my membership.

About a week after joining in March 2006, I telephoned the office and left a message for the Executive Director that I would like to meet with his assistant and him to explain my business. I was an independent representative for Pre-Paid Legal Services, Inc., and I asked for a ten-minute meeting to explain what my business was and why I had joined the chamber. How long do you think it took him to return the call? A year later, I’m still waiting.

Six months later, I went to the September meeting of the Board of Directors to share my disappointments (plural, you’ll notice) with the chamber. One of the disappointments, I told them, was that the Executive Director had never returned my call. And there were other issues.

I had noticed that the position of Chamber Secretary (the Board’s officer position) was not being listed in the monthly newsletter. A name of the Secretary was being shown on the Chamber’s website, and I asked why it wasn’t printed in the monthly newsletter. No answer was forthcoming, so I kept asking. It turned out that the person whose name was being shown on the chamber’s website was no longer the Secretary!

The Secretary of a corporation is a very important and legally specific position. A corporation must have a Secretary. After repeated inquiries, the Executive Director finally told me that he was “acting” as Secretary until the Board could elect a new Secretary at the first of the year. Now that didn’t make any sense to me, at all. So I went to the Chamber office and read the Minutes of Board meetings. In March or April (I’ve forgotten which), the Minutes reflected that he had been elected to the position of Secretary. So he wasn’t acting as Secretary; he was the Secretary!

So everything’s okay; right? Wrong. The Executive Director of the chamber – of any chamber – should not be the Secretary. The arrangement could possibly be too cozy – a President could tell the Secretary: “Sign this document or you’re fired.” Now, I had no reason to think that might happen, but having an independent Secretary – a business member of the Chamber - eliminates that risk.

I had read the By-Laws, but it was not until I re-read them later in the year that the “fine print” took on new meaning. Right in the By-Laws was the requirement that the Officers of the Board must be elected members of the Chamber. A-ha!!! The Executive Director is not an elected business member and so cannot serve as an officer of the board!

But this raised another problem! The Treasurer of the Woodstock Chamber was Woodstock’s City Manager. The City’s representative on the Board of Directors is not an “elected” position, so this meant that the City Manager, no matter how able or competent - or needed - to perform the duties of Treasurer, could not hold the position of Treasurer.

Why hadn’t a Board member caught this? And why hadn’t the attorney for the Chamber informed the Board that two of the four officers were not entitled to hold their offices?

The next problem was that the Nominating Committee didn’t present a slate of candidates for election to the Board at the 2007 Annual Meeting. The By-Laws require the Nominating Committee to present its report at the November meeting of the Board. It did not. Nor did it at the December meeting. Or at the January meeting. This caused me to wonder whether there were to be any nominees properly qualified for the election about to be held.

Last fall the Chamber conducted a survey of members. What did it do with the results? Other than falsely reporting percentage of member participation and of member satisfaction, apparently nothing.

My year of membership was up on February 28, and I expected to receive my renewal notice in the mail for March 1 dues. On March 22 I emailed the Executive Director that I had not received my dues notice. On March 26 he replied, “Just a note letting you know we received your request and will look into this and get back to you in the next couple of days.”

Today is April 16, and there has been no word yet. I’m delinquent in my dues, and I have no doubt that my membership delinquency will be called to the attention of the Board with a recommendation that I be dropped as a member.

Or have they already dropped me? When I checked the membership listing today, I found that my name is no longer listed there! So I’m out, gone, kaput. But there is always a bright side. I was reminded of Groucho Marx, who said, “I sent the club a wire stating, PLEASE ACCEPT MY RESIGNATION. I DON'T WANT TO BELONG TO ANY CLUB THAT WILL ACCEPT ME AS A MEMBER.”

Real Estates Signs Along Highways

You’ve seen them. All over McHenry County on a week-end. Those pesky paper-and-wireframe, real estate advertising signs for the Sonatas, Sweetwater, Evergreen Park, Neumann Homes, KB Homes, Patriot Estates, … you name it. The signs sprout on Friday night, germinate over the week-end, and then miraculously disappear on Sunday night.

Is it just a coincidence that they are placed when the McHenry County Planning Department is closed? Gee, it couldn’t be that the developers wish to avoid prosecution for placing their signs illegally in the right-of-way along Route 120 and other highways and roads in McHenry County. Or could it?

For more than two years I have ragged on the County Planning Department to take action against these and other developers. It took a l-o-n-g time, but the Department finally sent out a letter to developers last year. Did it do any good? No! Do you still see the signs all over the County? Yes!

The County Planning & Development Committee is finally giving some attention to the problem. Oh, how slowly the wheels do turn.

Recently I inquired whether it would be illegal for others and me to pull the signs out of the ground and lay them down on the ground, where they cannot be seen. I’m waiting for an answer from the McHenry County Sheriff’s Department on this one.

What is clear is that these signs are illegally placed in the right-of-way. The County’s ordinance is crystal clear. But it would cost money to remove them. I suggested a $25-50 citation to each developer for each and every sign. And lots of publicity. Get a reporter and photographer from the Northwest Herald to follow the pick-up crew around.

So, the next time you see one of these illegal signs, be sure to call the developer or the real estate salesman and tell him you are going to buy from someone else – someone who respects the law and doesn’t break it by placing signs illegally all over the county.

Sunday, April 15, 2007

Unfair ticket?

On January 30 I was stopped in Woodstock for a headlight out. Right in front of my house. I mean, right in front.

The officer, whom I've know for about four years, greeted me by my first name and asked if I knew my headlight was out. Because I didn't think I had any reason to suspect that I might be treated unfairly, I answered that I did know the headlight was out. I explained that I knew exactly where it had gone out. Ten miles back in Wonder Lake. Twenty minutes earlier. I explained also that I had driven straight to my house. There was no repair garage between Wonder Lake and my house. There was no place open at 6:00PM to get a new headlight installed. There was no public transportation at that hour from Wonder Lake to Woodstock.

The headlight had gone out two weeks before, and I showed the officer my vehicle repair record. He said that, since he had stopped me, he would have to give me a Warning. No problem. I expected to take the car back to DeCraene's the next morning and get it fixed again. The officer returned to his car, and I waited in my car.

Another Woodstock squad car arrived. Back-up, don't you know? The two officers talked, and then the second car departed. I read the Car Number as it passed me. Then the first officer walked to my car and told me he was going to give me a ticket! I asked just what had changed in the past ten minutes, and he didn't have an answer (or at least one that he would give me).

He wrote me a $75.00 ticket. He offered to call his sergeant, and the sergeant came to where we were stopped. I explained again that I knew exactly where the headlight had gone out, because I was keeping an extra close eye on my driving and vehicle.

Early in January I had received a telephone call from an employee at the sheriff's department who told me there was a $100 Bounty out on me; any deputy who could write me a ticket for anything would get $100 cash! I have the name of the person purportedly offering the Bounty! I had dictated the mileage where the headlight went out into a pocket tape recorder that I keep in the car, and I played the tape for the officer and the sergeant. Then I turned on the lights and pointed to the odometer - exactly ten miles after the mileage on the tape recording!

The sergeant let the officer's decision stand and the ticket was issued. I said, "Jim, you do what you have to do, and then I'll do what I have to do." I have told many people this story - to a man, they have used two words to describe the officer's decision. The first starts with B, and the second starts with S.

I met with Chief Lowen to learn the officer's reason. The officer decided that since I am quite vocal about traffic violations and want the laws enforced, then he would give me the ticket and not a Warning. I filed a Freedom of Information Act request and learned that the officer had made 77 traffic stops in the past 90 days. He issued 39 tickets and 38 warnings. I appreciated that Chief Lowen was willing to meet with me and be honest about the officer's decision-making process. In many cities and towns, a chief would never do that, especially before a court date.

I had thought of defending myself and taking up an hour of the judge's time. I considered having subpeonas issued to the sergeant, the second officer, and the records sergeant, and obtaining copies of the computer records, in-car camera videotape which would show the officer's telling me he would give me a Warning, police radio traffic, and cell phone records of the Department cell phone and the officer's personal cell phone. I figured that the judge would probably say, "Good try, Gus, but was the headlight out?" and then fine me not only the $75.00 (if not more) but also obligate me to $150 of court costs. Add lost work time, and it wasn't worth it - this time...

Was the ticket unfair?

Did the officer have the right to give me a ticket? Absolutely.
Did he make a bad decision, when he changed his mind? Absolutely.

When I was a cop, I was aware that we always had the right to issue a ticket, if we stopped a driver for a valid reason. If a driver was argumentative, abusive, profane, whatever, we could always write a ticket. But, if a courteous roadside contact solved the problem, especially for a vehicle equipment item, then no ticket was needed.

Was I singled out? You bet. It only took a couple of days for the person offering the Bounty at the sheriff's department to hear about my ticket. Four days later I got a call from an employee there who told that person was jumping up and down (with joy) that "Woodstock nailed Philpott".

Disregard for Fire Lane

An interesting situation exists at the Woodstock Recreation Center on Lake Avenue at Kimball Street. On a recent Friday afternoon I noticed that a fire truck and two ambulances were parked in the Fire Lane. Knowing the Woodstock Fire/Rescue District is not part of the City of Woodstock, I emailed Fire Chief Ralph Webster to alert him and to request that he ask the drivers to park the vehicles in regular parking spots or, at least, not in the Fire Lane unless they were on an emergency response at the Recreation Center.

There were, of course, several responses that I might have received, one being "Thanks for letting me know. I'll be sure that the drivers park legally there." And that's the one I received; right? NOT!

When I didn't hear back from Ralph, I emailed Police Chief Bob Lowen to ask him to enforce the Fire Lane parking law. I mentioned I hadn't heard from Ralph and he must have let Ralph know that I had contacted him, because Ralph took exception to my letting the Police Chief know that he hadn't replied. Ralph then wrote and said that he had replied, but his email to me had apparently not been delivered to me, and I should have known that. Guess I'd better practice up on my psychic skills...

Police Chief Lowen quoted a section of the traffic code in an email to me. "Authorized Emergency Vehicles can park there according to Section 625 ILCS 5/11-205c(1) of the Illinois Vehicle Code ."

Perhaps many people would let things drop there, but I had a strong suspicion that Authorized Emergency Vehicles are required to obey traffic laws, so I looked up 5/11-205c(1). It can be found online at, where you have to nose around quite a bit to find the Illinois Vehicle Code and then experiment to find the right section.

Sure enough, Authorized Emergency Vehicles can park "there" (in a designated Fire Lane), BUT subject to certain conditions, none of which happen to be met by the WFRD vehicles. When you read this Section of the Illinois Vehicle Code carefully - - well, read it for yourself... Make up your own mind. To save your time, I have excerpted portions of the Section without changing the meaning:

The driver of an authorized emergency vehicle, when responding to an emergency call or when in the pursuit of an actual or suspected violator of the law or when responding to but not upon returning from a fire alarm, may exercise the privileges set forth in this Section, but subject to the conditions herein stated.
(c) The driver of an authorized emergency vehicle may:
1. Park or stand, irrespective of the provisions of this Chapter;
2. Proceed past a red or stop signal or stop sign, but only after slowing down as may be required and necessary for safe operation;
3. Exceed the maximum speed limits so long as he does not endanger life or property;
4. Disregard regulations governing direction of movement or turning in specified directions.
(d) The exceptions herein granted to an authorized emergency vehicle, other than a police vehicle, shall apply only when the vehicle is making use of either an audible signal when in motion or visual signals meeting the requirements of Section 12‑215 of this Act.

So the questions are -
Q. Are the WFRD vehicles at the Recreation Center on an emergency call?
A. No, the firemen and paramedics are working out as part of the P.E. requirement of the WFRD.
Q. Are "visual signals" (emergency lights) in use?
A. No, and they cannot be legally used except during emergency response.
Q. Is it "training"? Are the firefighters learning how to lay hose faster, swing axes, put out fires?
A. No, there is a lot of hoop-de-lah in the news about firefighters keeling over from heart attacks while fighting fires, so Ralph lets them work out while on-duty.

But the last question is a side issue and has nothing to do with whether the fire trucks are illegally parked.

When my efforts to get the police department to enforce the parking law failed, I contacted City Manager Tim Clifton and asked him to get a legal opinion from the City Attorney. On April 2 Tim wrote, "The Chief’s interpretation is sufficient. Furthermore, the safety of the building and its inhabitants are not diminished but enhanced with the fire apparatus and personnel on site."

Interesting... it's okay to violate the law if safety is enhanced. So then I contacted Woodstock Mayor Brian Sager and asked him to obtain a legal opinion from the City Attorney. Mayor Sager expressed "absolute trust and confidence in the ability of the City's professional staff and said he would not support getting a legal opinion.

On April 13 at 3:10PM there were two fire engines and two ambulances in the Fire Lane, and I called Woodstock PD to ask for an officer to come to the Recreation Center and observe the violation. I did not want just any officer, because a regular patrol officer would end up in a really sticky spot if he read the traffic law and realized a violation existed, so I asked to speak with the shift sergeant. The shift sergeant refused to come to the Recreation Center to document that the WFRD equipment was illegally parked in the Fire Lane.

I'm having a really hard time trying to figure out just what the problem is. Is the problem that Fire Chief Ralph Webster is also City Councilman Ralph Webster? Is the problem that Police Chief Lowen and Fire Chief Webster are not really peers, but Ralph is, in effect, one of the Chief's bosses by virtue of his position on the City Council? I have known Chief Lowen for a year through the Coffees with the Chief and other matters, and I believe him to be a man of integrity and honesty. But let's face it. Is he willing to fall on his sword over a battle with Ralph? Or is the problem that the score right now between the City Attorney's office and me is Gus 2, City Attorney's office 0?

There is a very simple solution. A correct legal opinion from the City Attorney's office will keep Chief Lowen and the officers of the Woodstock Police Department out of the middle. The law is crystal clear. WFRD fire trucks and ambulances are parking illegally in the Fire Lane.

Why do I use the word "correct" legal opinion? This will be addressed in other postings.

The proper course of action for the Fire Chief is to tell his drivers to park legally, especially because of his position as a City Councilman. Every appearance of favoritism should be avoided. Shouldn't it?

What do you think?