Saturday, July 28, 2007

Overnight Parking Ban = 200 tickets/mo.

This week’s Woodstock Independent carried an article about the July Coffee with the Chief and the remarks by one Woodstock PD officer who wrote 24 tickets in one night for prohibited overnight parking on a Woodstock street. This officer writes about 200 tickets/month and these are at just one (1) apartment community, the Mapletree Apartments on Sheila Street.

For those of you not familiar with Mapletree Apartments, this is subsidized housing located east of Route 47 and just south and east of Kentucky Fried Chicken, up near the courthouse.

I don’t doubt for a minute that the tickets written by the officer were valid; i.e., a vehicle was parked on the street for more than 30 minutes between 2:00-6:00AM.

The issue is now why were there 24 vehicles so parked, and why would there be 200 vehicles so parked in one month.

On July 25 I emailed the City Manager, Mayor, all City Councilpersons and the police chief to ask this question. In three business days, not a peep out of any one of them. Not one reply!

I assert that the City is failing to serve a significant part of its population – the low income, underprivileged, less-educated and definitely politically powerless residents of Mapletree.

I even telephoned (July 24, I think) and left a message for the manager at Mapletree, suggesting that I might have a solution to the parking problem. Did s/he call me back? I’m still waiting.

So, what is the real problem?

Do residents just thumb their noses at the City ordinance and dare the officer to issue a ticket? Not hardly.

Does the Mapletree apartment community provide adequate off-street parking for its residents? How does Mapletree allocate parking spaces? How many spaces does each apartment get?

Mapletree requires a parking permit on any car parked in its parking lots. What happens if you don’t have a permit? Your car gets towed.

Is the towing by a local towing service? No way! Mapletree contracts with an out-of-area towing service. Does that towing service charge fairly for towing a car? The jury is out on this one; I’m going to talk to residents and find out how much towing costs.

Do residents have to “qualify” for a parking permit? Is the apartment complex office open at hours to accommodate working people?

There are no signs installed to warn drivers about the overnight parking ban. Adequate signs should be installed by the City, even if only on a temporary basis. Perhaps some of the signs should be in Spanish.

The apartment complex and the City of Woodstock should hold meetings to educate Mapletree residents about the City parking ban. The meetings should be held at hours convenient for residents. And the City should force Mapletree Apartments to provide adequate off-street parking for its residents.

Mapletree should get rid of its contract for the towing company to prowl its parking lots in the wee hours of the morning and tow cars that don’t have permits. The City Police could issue tickets at the request of the apartment manager and handle parking violations in this manner.

If you think the City should be pro-active in assisting Mapletree residents with the parking problems, email me at and contact the City. Let the Mayor and your City Council representative know how you feel. Do it now…

Wednesday, July 25, 2007

Worse than PayDay Loans?

You’ve probably read about PayDay Loans. You walk into a loan office, promise to repay in two weeks out of your next pay check, and walk out with money. Pretty easy, right? Sure, at 300-700% interest!

Illinois took action recently to cut interest rates on these payday loans. One operation, which advertised heavily on Star 105.5, charged 782%. All you had to do was borrow $200 for 14 days. They didn’t even try to hide the 782% rate, not that they should or could. It was right there on their loan form.

Could something be worse? Could our trusted banks stick it to their customers at such rates? How about at even higher rates?

Banks decided to start charging customers rates far higher than that. They apparently get away with it by calling their flat charge for an overdraft a Service Charge. Instead of bouncing your check or denying your debit-card transaction, they approve it, loan you the money, and hit you up for the fee.

Their rationale? “We’re protecting your reputation by not bouncing your check.”

I remember the last time I bounced a check. It was in 1955. I made a deposit and went across the street to write a check. Although it was a small check, I didn’t know that you had to wait seven days for a deposit to clear. That was the first, and last, time I wrote a bad check. Heck, many of the readers here weren’t even born then!

And now? Go ahead; write your bad check for $10.00. It’ll clear your bank and they will zing you at least $28.00. Let’s say your next paycheck deposit covers that $10.00 and pays off your $28.00 “service fee.” What is the true APR for the use of $10.00 for less than 14 days? I could probably figure it out, and perhaps one of you readers will. Whatever it is, it’s unconscionable and should be illegal.

Tuesday, July 24, 2007

Ware Road Speed Limit

Recently I was curious about the speed limit on Ware Road between IL Route 47 and Raffel Road, out there near the new high school. I wrote to the City and received a nice reply from John Isbell, Director of Woodstock Public Works.

Here’s what John says…

“All of Ware Road from Illinois Route 47 to Raffel Road is under the jurisdiction of the City of Woodstock. The majority of the adjoining property is developed with lots and structuresat interval less than 100' and meets the definition of an urban district. The State imposed speed limit is 30 mph.”

I wrote back to thank him and added: “Ware Road would be a great place for some 30MPH signs in both directions. Maybe some of the deputies would slow down. Somehow, I kind of doubt that any Woodstock cop would issue a ticket to a deputy or that one deputy would ticket another.”

So, if you are on Ware Road and think it’s a good place for 35MPH or even 45-50MPH, keep this in mind. The speed limit is 30MPH. And, if you are passed by a speeding deputy sheriff, get the car number (not the license plate) and let Sheriff Nygren know. If you want his e-mail address, just let me know at

Monday, July 23, 2007

Check That Pump Price!

How often do you check the actual per-gallon price on the pump before you pump gas?

This morning I pulled into the Clark station on Lake Avenue to gas up the motorcycle. As I pulled in, I saw that premium unleaded was advertised at $3.439/gallon. A little high, I thought…

As I began the prepaid transaction, I noticed that the per-gallon price on the pump was $3.499/gal. Whoa! Wait just a minute. I only buy 1-1½ gallons at a time, so the 6-9¢ wasn’t going to kill me. But there is a principle; right?

When I went inside, I asked the attendant what the price was for premium, and he answered that it was $3.43. He was surprised when I told him the pump price was $3.49, and he set about finding the written instructions for changing the pump price.

I could tell it was going to take a while, so I went back to the pump and bought my 1.357 gallons.

I was reminded of the time I stopped in Crystal Lake, just as the station operator was raising the price. I saw the higher price on the advertising sign, and the attendant told me to go ahead and pump at the lower price, because they always changed the sign first. Now that’s the fair way to do it!

Thursday, July 19, 2007

Loading Zone Needed

Ever tried to drive north on Dean Street into the Square, when a tractor-trailer or other large delivery truck is parked in the traffic lane by Angelo’s, so that the driver can unload his delivery?

A little problem? A big problem!

There is no doubt that the driver needs to deliver his food to Angelo’s. Customers tend to get a little unhappy when they want to order bacon & eggs and there aren’t any.

Drivers need to be able to stop close to the delivery point and make their deliveries fairly quickly, so that they can get on to the next stop. The driver is probably not seated in Angelo’s, enjoying a leisurely breakfast and that extra cup of coffee.

What’s the problem? When you are the driver who has driven around the Square and wants to turn right at the Opera House and go south on Dean, there is probably no problem, unless you happen to meet a car head-on in your lane after making the turn.

Or, if you are the driver stopped behind the truck, hoping and praying that a driver coming your way might just be courteous enough to stop well back and allow you to pull out from behind the truck and drive on the wrong side of the street to pass the parked delivery truck.

Recently I suggested to the City that a Loading Zone be created on Dean Street between Calhoun and Van Buren Streets. As I recall, the response was, “We’ll look into it.”

Well, the “looking time” has passed. What’s the decision? How about a Loading Zone from 7:00-9:00AM for the three-four parking spaces on the east side of Dean Street? Then the driver of a tractor-trailer or other delivery truck could just pull straight into it, make the delivery, and leave. By the way, the driver should stop far enough back from the stop sign so as not to obstruct an approaching driver’s view of the stop sign.

Wednesday, July 18, 2007

Galt Airport Rock Concert

We taxpayers in McHenry County are about to foot a huge bill to defend Sheriff Nygren and the McHenry County Sheriff’s Dept. in a federal lawsuit filed by Mike Stanard, operator of Galt Airport in Greenwood. Stanard objects to being required to hire sheriff’s deputies at an $80,000/year payrate to protect the public at the Galt Airport rock concerts.

And if Stanard doesn’t pay? Will the Sheriff really close off public roads leading to Galt Airport?

I recall reading of this controversy when it first arose. At the time I thought, “Even though I’m not going to the concert, perhaps I’ll drive out Greenwood Road and see if my passage is restricted.”

Sheriff Nygren is quoted in the July 18 Northwest Herald as saying this lawsuit is the most ridiculous thing he has heard of in his 40 years in law enforcement.

There are only two ridiculous aspects to this federal lawsuit filed against the McHenry County Sheriff's Dept.; 1) that the Sheriff's Dept. allegedly created conditions leading to the lawsuit and 2) the legal expense to Stanard to file such a lawsuit.

I’ve witnessed Sheriff’s deputies strutting around the McHenry County Fair like they own the place. Casually dressed, armed (of course). Hard to discern whether they really were police. And that’s in the daytime. If they are on patrol, they need to be in uniform, so there is no doubt whatsoever of their standing as police. No more black t-shirts and jeans.

If Stanard provides security and no problems result in need for police response, then the cops need to stay away.

Is this an expense that we taxpayers need to foot? Should the Sheriff's legal bill be paid by him or by his political fund? Shouldn't there be an investigation of possible criminal activity connected with improper use of authority?

McHenry County Sheriff's Department needs an Internal Affairs Division, with full investigative authority and the power to charge ANY member of the Sheriff's Department, should they believe a crime was committed.

Friday, July 13, 2007

Matthew Ouimet Fined $1069 for 145MPH

Last month I wrote about the mystery driver on Kishwaukee Valley Road who got nabbed for speeding last January. Well, not just “speeding.” How about failing to stop at a stop sign and failing to yield to an emergency vehicle? And a license plate violation?

And not just “speeding” a few miles an hour over the limit. How about 90MPH over the speed limit! Right! Ticketed for 145MPH in a 55MPH speed zone. Who was the mystery driver? That unnamed person who didn’t even make the news? And whom the Illinois State Police refused to identify, citing that it would be a “clearly unwarranted invasion of privacy”?

According to McHenry County Traffic Court records this week, Matthew Ouimet, 25, of Poplar Grove, was in court on June 29 and got socked with a $1,069 fine. The judge tacked on a few goodies, too, such as 30 hours of community service and eight hours of traffic school.

What was his speed? How about 145MPH (in a 55MPH zone)? The final charge was misdemeanor Reckless Driving. All the other charges got rolled into this one. I forgot to ask how much the court costs were. Maybe I’ll have to call back on Monday.

Now, get this. The judge added on one year of what a court clerk called “probation”; i.e., one year of Conditional Discharge.

What does this mean? If Ouimet keeps his noise clean for a year, the charge gets wiped off his record!

Outraged? A State trooper risks life and limb to grab a guy going 90MPH over the speed limit, and the judge is going to let him skate if he is lucky enough not to get caught again within a year?

Why would a judge ever allow Conditional Discharge in a case like this? This is serious enough to merit the charge sticking on Ouimet’s driving record for a long time.

Stop Signs at Jewel - do you stop?

Okay, so what do YOU think? When you are driving through the Jewel-Osco parking lot in Jewel and you see the stop signs, do you stop? When you see little old ladies trying to cross the driveway with their canes or walkers or grocery carts, do you stop?

And when you see the Fire Lane sign on the front wall of Jewel, do you say, “Oh, what the heck! There is no fire; I’ll park right there and run in 'just for a minute'?” Oh, and the Loading Zone? That’s just a parking and waiting zone for those few “special” people who are too lazy to move their cars and wait in the parking lot for their passengers to shop.

There is an interesting tug-of-war going on right now with the City over a Vehicular Control Agreement (VCA), which would allow officers of the Woodstock Police Department to issue tickets to drivers who run the stop signs and who park in violation of signs. Without it all they can do is watch the violators and wish they had the police authority to stop them.

I’ve contacted all three property owners. Jewel-Osco wants a VCA and has told me it has signed the Agreement. However, the City will not enforce traffic laws just in front of Jewel. The City supposedly wants the power to enforce traffic laws on all of the parking lot and not just the portion occupied by the anchor store. All or none. Makes sense; right? NOT!!!

A second property owner has never been approached by the City to consider a VCA. Now that’s a strange circumstance. So I asked the City this week to send him a copy for his review.

A third property owner refuses to sign the VCA because of the broad powers sought by the police department. He told me that the City wants the right to designate where stop signs should be and wants the power to close off access to this property, if it so decides. No property owner in his right mind would consent to such a condition. He's right to refuse to sign.

When I asked the City this week for a copy of the proposed VCA, the reply was “The City does not share your view that a VCA is warranted at the Jewel-Osco facility in Woodstock…”

I responded to the City official that I had not inquired whether the City shared my view or agreed or disagreed with me. What I asked for was a copy of the proposed VCA. And so I asked again.

The police department put in a lot of work 12-18 months ago to try to get a VCA in place. Now I wonder who “The City” is who doesn’t share my view.

If you talk to employees and customers at the Jewel, Hollywood Video, the Hallmark store, and the stores in the little strip between the cleaners and the phone store, you’ll find that THEY want the police to enforce the laws. So, just why would “the City” not want to do so?

It looks like the next step will be to conduct a survey at Jewel and get some petitions signed. And to file a Freedom of Information Act Request for the number of VCAs in force in Woodstock and for some copies. These are public documents, prepared at taxpayer expense and for the safety of taxpayers. There should be no question that they should be available upon request. Since the City has, in effect, refused my request, I’ll go the next step – the formal route.

Stone-walling wastes everyone’s time. The City wastes its time and money by digging its heels and embarrasses itself by not conducting business in the open. Last I heard, it’s still government of the people, by the people, for the people, in the USA. Woodstock is still in the USA, isn’t it?

Monday, July 9, 2007

Hear Ye, Hear Ye (but can you hear???)-

Over the past couple of years I’ve visited several courtrooms at the McHenry County Government Center. While I’ll admit to some slight hearing loss [perhaps due to too many visits to the pistol range and too much (well, not too much) motorcycle riding], I find it hard to hear what is being said at the bench by the lawyers, plaintiffs and defendants, and by the judges.

Why do they mumble and speak in hushed tones? Isn’t the courtroom a place where justice is to be served (and where interested parties and other visitors should be able to hear the proceedings)?

If you can’t hear what’s being said (because of the mumbling), how does one really know that justice is being served?

On more than one occasion I have asked the bailiff to give a note to the judge to ask all to speak up. One time it worked. The other times? Nothing. No change. I’ve even gone to the office of Court Administration to leave a request for the Presiding Judge. And I’ve written to Court Administration. Former Judge Ward Arnold did respond positively that anyone in court should be able to hear the proceedings. I guess it's time to write to Judge Prather.

An attorney overheard my request in court one day and volunteered that the public does not have the “right” to hear what’s going on in a courtroom. That might be true in Iran, but I don’t believe it’s true in the USA.

Anyone in the courtroom can see the microphones right on the bench. Are they just decorative? The sound system must be turned off or turned down.

The attorneys who wish to hold conversations at the lawyers’ tables, which are unrelated to the matter being heard, should step outside to speak to one another. Why are they permitted to talk but others in the courtroom cannot? All should respect the judge’s court.

Next time you are in court, ask the judge or the bailiff to have all parties speak up. And to quiet the attorneys who believe they can stand near the seating area and carry on conversations. See what response you get. I hope it’s better than mine!

Thursday, July 5, 2007

Scooter Scoots

Every American should be outraged at President Bush’s commutation of Scooter Libby’s prison sentence. Is there anyone who believes that Bush will not pardon Libby? It’s too bad he doesn’t have the guts to just do it right now and take the heat. Bush is telling the world that it’s okay to perjure yourself in court, if you have friends in high places who will bail you out.

I am embarrassed that, with rare exception, I voted Republican for almost 40 years. I’d like to think that I voted each time for the man I thought best for the office and not just because he was in the GOP. But now I wonder.

We have invaded a foreign country and are engaged in a war we cannot win. We are in a war we never should have gotten into. The Bushies will say that anyone against the war is against the troops, and that’s a lie. We can support our troops and not support the war. The troops aren’t there because they want to be; they are there because they have been ordered there.

Bush’s actions have jeopardized this country, this generation, and many future generations. If we heard every day what the cost of the war is [$440 Billion!!!) visit] and how many dead and injured there are so far, the outrage would be much higher, and we would demand an immediate and solid policy to extract ourselves from the quadmire.

55MPH or 50MPH; which is it?

When is the Speed Limit not the speed limit?

Recently a 50MPH speed limit sign appeared on westbound Route 120, just south of Charles Road, for drivers heading into Woodstock.

Since this is open country (rural highway), the State speed limit of 55MPH should apply, as it did until the new sign showed up.

So, just what is the correct speed limit? I have contacted the IDOT Sign Shop in Lake Zurich to ask whether an error was made in posting the 50MPH sign.

For eastbound drivers leaving Woodstock, the speed limit is still 55MPH, once you clear the 50MPH speed zone just east of Raffel Road. Common practice is for the speed limit to be the same in both directions on a given segment of highway..

It will be interesting to learn why and how the new, lower speed limit sign was posted.

Sunday, July 1, 2007

Traffic Laws - for Cops, too (Really?)

Let’s say that you are driving on a major two-lane McHenry County road and you spot a friend stopped on the shoulder, facing toward you. You recognize the car and see your friend behind the driver’s wheel. There is no one coming, so you swing over onto the wrong side of the roadway and stop with your driver’s door next to the driver’s door of your friend’s car. The weather is nice, traffic is light, and you enjoy a nice conversation with your friend, who has just stopped his car to enjoy the scenery for a while.
A few cars are coming along toward you and have to stop, because you are blocking their traffic lane. They have to stop and wait, because other traffic, traveling in the same direction as you were, slows down to see what’s going on and then passes by.
Then a McHenry County Sheriff’s deputy comes along. He sees your car stopped in the oncoming traffic lane on the county road and sees a line of cars stopped, waiting to pull around you. What do you suppose the deputy does? Drive on by? Wave at the drivers? Wonder what’s going on? Or does he flip on his emergency lights, stop and tell you to pull back onto the correct side of the road and then onto the shoulder, where he writes you at least one, perhaps more than one, ticket?
Now let’s change this scene a little.
Let’s say that a McHenry County Jail prisoner work group is cleaning up trash and litter along Barnard Mill Road in Ringwood. Let’s say it’s Thursday morning, June 28, 2007, and about 9:45AM. Prisoners are wearing the orange jump suits, so you know they are prisoners. One deputy with a white shirt is standing on the south shoulder near the west end of the group of prisoners working on that side of the road. Other prisoners are working on the north side of the roadway. A sheriff’s department squad car is parked on the north shoulder, facing west.
The sheriff’s department squad car parked on the shoulder is Unit #568. As you approach from the west, you see a second sheriff’s department squad car stopped in the roadway. He is parked in the westbound lane of Barnard Mill Road, facing east. He is completely blocking the westbound lane of traffic. He is stopped so that the driver’s door of his squad car is next to the driver’s door of the squad car parked on the north shoulder. The drivers are engaged in conversation.
As you approach, you see vehicles in the westbound lane that have been forced to stop because the deputy in Squad car #551 is blocking the road. You don’t see any emergency lights on either vehicle. You are eastbound and your lane is clear, so you proceed past slowly and wonder what emergency exists that the driver in Unit #551 has stopped to block the roadway.
Continuing on your way, you telephone the sheriff’s department and ask to speak with the command officer in charge of the Patrol Division. You are transferred to the telephone of a woman who answers “Patrol” but does not identify herself. You specifically ask that the message (complaint) be given to the command officer. When she says that she’ll give it to someone to look into it, you repeat your request that it go to the command officer.
About ten minutes later a sergeant calls back and asks what’s going on. Didn’t he get the full message from the secretary? You explain about the deputy being stopped illegally in the roadway and clocking traffic. You have to ask the sergeant if he doesn’t see something wrong with this picture.
Am I making all this up? No way. On Thursday morning this is exactly what happened.
I did raise the hackles of the sergeant by being flip and saying there was no apparent emergency and perhaps the two deputies were just arranging a “donut run.” Boy! Did he ever take offense?!!!
The sergeant attempted to guess that the deputy in the car blocking the road was investigating something involving the safety of the jail deputies guarding the prisoners. Since the deputy on foot was showing no alarm and was not even standing near the closest prisoner, I knew there had been no emergency response. Since the deputy was parked in the road so close to the parked squad car on the shoulder, neither deputy could get out of his vehicle in a hurry, if the prisoners took off.
By stopping in the roadway and blocking the flow of westbound traffic, the risk to the public was actually increased. What if a prisoner had decided to carjack a stopped car, brandishing his rake or shovel?
I asked the sergeant to check out what was really going on and suggested he ought to tell the deputy who had parked illegally to write himself a ticket. That’s for sure not going to happen.
To me, this appeared to be a clear demonstration of abuse of police authority. The deputy knew he could stop in the roadway and block traffic because who is going to challenge him? Who is going to ticket him? The deputy sitting in the squad car that’s parked legally on the shoulder? No way! The deputy guarding the prisoners? No way? A passing State Trooper? No way! You’ve heard of professional courtesy; right?
So the deputy in Unit #551 can do what he wants, when he wants, and get away with it, when a private citizen who did the same thing would find himself on the receiving end of a ticket.
Is this fair?
Hmmm, as I write this, I am wondering whether the $100 Bounty offered on my head at the sheriff’s department in January will be re-instated or even raised?
Are there any deputies in the sheriff’s department who agree with me?