Thursday, April 30, 2009

Lake Ave. Wading Pool

Almost every time it rains, the sidewalk in front of the Woodstock Recreation Center takes a dive and disappears under water.
And here some of us thought the only pool at the Rec Center was inside!
This photo was taken about 5:30PM and water had receded somewhat from the rain earlier in the day.
Potholes may be more important for repairs, but let's hope the City gets around to doing whatever it needs to do here. A drain? Raise and level the sidewalk? Shouldn't be too nasty of a job to stand up the concrete slabs and throw some gravel under them.
What's your guess? Two dumptrucks of gravel? Three? Would that do the job?

Silk Oak Lane - not the FBI

Well, the armed approach to a real estate agent apparently wasn't by the FBI and wasn't a real estate agent. It appears now that a property manager was changing the locks on a foreclosed house when Crystal Lake PD officers showed up.

Read the following letter, sent to Chief Linder of the Crystal Lake PD, by an upset neighbor:

"Dave Linder 4/30/2009

"Your Police officers were called to the home (on) Silk Oak Lane. Upon entering our subdivision your officer came directly behind me as we entered the subdivision and then as we attempted to enter our driveway. He proceeded to get out of his vehicle while at the same time brandishing his gun in the air. He approached the home of (street address deleted) Silk Oak and stood next to the garage while holding his gun for all the world to see. There were several residents as well as small children to witness the scene. Who was the person your officer was in pursuit of an innocent real estate agent. The fact that you so completely terrorized this person with a gun apparently wasn't good enough because then your officers proceeded to hand cuff her. Next time your officers (COWBOYS)come into this neighbor brandishing a gun with children in the vicinity you might want to think about clearing the area. Your officers response was Totally Inappropriate and Irresponsible. If this is protocol and this is the way your officers are taught to respond, you have it all wrong and really need to touch base with reality. After all. this is the City of Crystal Lake not New York or for that matter the South Side of Chicago. Just a thought, but you might be opening yourselves up to more civil liability. SO if this real estate agent tries to sue you I will be more than willing to go to court for her. Please do not allow this kind of ridiculous, paranoid, and irresponsible behavior on the part of your officer to take place again."

A request has been made to the Crystal Lake PD for its press release for this incident.

Televise City Council Meetings?

Would you turn off CSI or any other television program to watch your own government in action? Well, OK, if you wouldn't ditch CSI, might you at least tape a City Council meeting and watch it on a slow night?

The question asked in a survey during this past week was, "Would you like Woodstock City Council meetings to be broadcast on Comcast public-access TV?"

21 readers (49%) voted "Yes"
22 readers (51%) voted "Don't Care"

All right, I'll admit to leaving a "No" choice off the ballot.

Dig out your property tax bill and look at the numerous taxing entities and the dollars going to each. Do you have any clue at all how all those dollars are being spent?

You won't read about all the City Council actions in the Northwest Herald. You probably won't go to the Woodstock Public Library and pour over the binder prepared in advance of every City Council meeting. You won't be able to discern from the online Agenda just what the Consent Agenda includes and how much is being spent for what.

How about showing up at at least two City Council meetings in the next 12 months?

Thanks for voting.

Should the Mayor rule?

Last October a proposed ordinance was to be modified by four conditions, as agreed by the Woodstock City Council in a vote at a City Council meeting. However, when the final ordinance was drawn up, different and very specific conditions were added, and the mayor signed the final ordinance into law without a further vote by the City Council. It was then published and went into effect.

Last week I posed the following question to readers: "Should a mayor be able to expand a new ordinance and sign it into law without Council approval?"

Voting closed after a week, with these results:

69% of the readers who voted expressed their viewpoint that a mayor should not be able to expand an ordinance and sign it into law.
31% of the readers voted that a mayor could do so.

Many thanks to the readers who voted on this question!

Dep. Schlenkert Hearing - June 9

My attention was drawn back to the lawsuit of Deputy Robert Schlenkert against the McHenry County Sheriff's Department by yesterday's article in the Northwest Herald on Page 2C (if you missed it).

Readers and concerned citizens in McHenry County need to know the facts, in order to form an opinion about this case. It's too bad that the Northwest Herald isn't more careful to provide an impartial story, instead of bashing a deputy and supporting the Sheriff's Department.

Now, first of all, of course the Sheriff's Department wants a judge to dismiss the case. Any time you are a defendant in any case, you want the judge to dismiss it. That's kind of a no-brainer, isn't it?

Why would Dep. Schlenkert file a lawsuit in February? Because Judge McIntyre issued a decision on December 17, 2008, that concluded with "Having considered all of the materials in the record, the arguments of counsel and the case law cited by the parties, this Court finds that the Decision of the Sheriff's Merit Commission was arbitrary and unreasonable in terminating Deputy Schlenkert for cause." So, he wants his job back!

Arbitrary? Unreasonable? Pretty strong words. Too bad she didn't throw in "capricious".

Has the Sheriff's Department heard of the ADA? The Americans with Disabilities Act? An employer, even a police agency, can employ a person with a disability (this is the term in wide use now; not "a disabled person"). It must, according to Federal law, make such accommodations as are necessary.

If Deputy Schlenkert's panic disorder doesn't interfere with his performing his duties as required by his employment, then he can work. And I'll bet that, if they did interfere with his employment, he'd be the first to say so.

Dep. Schlenkert should have been returned to duty promptly after Judge McIntyre ruled. But the Sheriff's Department didn't put him back to work. Hence, his lawsuit.

Now here is a huge error in the Northwest Herald story. "He (Schlenkert) failed the physical required to complete the training four times, so he was fired in December 2007 for not completing the training as ordered." On its face the story is misleading, because it doesn't explain in what (minor) way he failed the physical aspect of the training.

Judge McIntyre addressed that completely in her Decision. On Page 4 of her Decision, Judge McIntyre wrote Schlenkert "...took the POWER test at PTI (the Police Training Academy) and failed the running portion. He failed on his second attempt on May 15th (2007) by again not passing the running portion."

Later in June 2007 Schlenkert failed the POWER test " not passing the sit up test due to stiffness." He later failed a second sit up test and a run test.

Schlenkert was sent back to the full Academy training, although he was a highly experienced deputy. He was order to attend the entire basic course that a brand-new, inexperienced, untrained deputy attends before becoming certified in Illinois as a peace officer. He obviously needed only the refresher courses on changes in laws since he was last on active duty, and he could have attended those courses without the POWER test requirement.

Perhaps the Sheriff's Department should require every deputy to take and pass the POWER test, including the Sheriff. Many of the deputies work hard to stay in good physical shape, but after 10-15 years on the job some will lose the ability to run as fast as they did when they were younger. And they won't be able to meet the same sit-up test minimums that they did at a younger age.

So Dep. Schlenkert continues to fight to get his job back. When he does, he should collect not only back pay and all his legal fees, but there ought to be a bonus for having to put up with all the (fill in the blank here).

Oh, by the way, in addition to Schlenkert's lawsuit against the Sheriff's Department, the Department is appealing Judge McIntyre's Decision. So there is a double-whammy on legal fees for the taxpayers. Does anyone know how much the Sheriff's Department spends on legal fees every year and what lawyers benefit from all this legal work?

Off-duty use of take-home squad cars

Several law enforcement agencies, including the McHenry County Sheriff's Department, allow officers (deputies) to take their squad cars home. And the officers can drive them around, when they are not on duty.

Now there must be a good reason to provide a squad car for an officer to drive instead of his personal vehicle. Departments have rules about their use. Often these rules include

1. officer must be available to respond to duty;
2. officer's firearm must be with him (so he doesn't have to go home first to get it);
3. officer must not consume alcoholic beverages before or while driving the squad car;
4. officer should not park in front of a liquor store to go shopping;
5. no passengers are allowed (can't drive your kids to school, pick up your wife after work, take your girlfriend to lunch)

And I'm sure there must be more rules.

And one of the rules is probably "Don't make any traffic stops while you are off-duty (unless, perhaps, it is a case of a really serious traffic violation, like DUI, street racing, etc.)" And, if you do make such a stop, radio it in immediately.

And don't scare any citizens.

How does the public find out, if an officer or deputy is making unauthorized traffic stops? Well, it doesn't. Unless you read it here.

A McHenry County Sheriff's deputy is being investigated for making just such stops. In one case, a woman driver was scared after being stopped. The deputy was reportedly not in uniform, but he stopped her while driving his squad car.

The rest of the story? I'm working on getting the details now.

Do you know anyone who has been stopped by an off-duty deputy or officer who was driving a squad car (marked or unmarked)?

Should departments really provide take-home cars? What are the statistics showing a genuine need for off-duty officers to respond? Has it ever happened?

Where's the news?

When the FBI approached a Crystal Lake residence on Silk Oak Lane east of Terra Cotta Road that was foreclosed on late last year, that's not necessarily front-page news.

When agents pull a gun on a visiting realtor and handcuff her, that is news.

What was happening there yesterday? When did the Crystal Lake P.D. learn of it?

Our tax dollars hard at work, right?

You didn't see this one in the paper this morning, did you? But you probably did read about the sting, when the FBI arrested a Lake in the Hills man for possessing TTX and then allegedly continued to question him and make promises, in spite of his requests for an attorney.

"Just answer our questions and we'll let you go home." Yeah, sure.

If you are ever stopped by a police officer and hear that one, it's time to shut up. Remember your rights.

From the American Bar Association:

"Police generally read these rights to individuals about to be questioned in custody. 'You have the right to remain silent. If you give up the right to remain silent, anything you say can and will be used against you in a court of law. You have the right to an attorney. If you desire an attorney and cannot afford one, an attorney will be obtained for you before police questioning.' "

Is it time to print those rights and put them in your wallet with your driver's license?

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Carry a gun in Wisconsin?

You may not have read a lot about Wisconsin’s position on open-carry (vs. “concealed carry”) of handguns this week, especially in Illinois newspapers. Or did I just miss the news?

According to Wisconsin Attorney General J.B. Van Hollen, citizens may carry guns openly (i.e., not concealed) in Wisconsin. You will want to read his opinions and memoranda very carefully and distinguish between "citizens" and Wisconsin "residents." And stay out of Milwaukee, if you are packing.

From a Memo of the Wisconsin Department of Justice, “The Department believes that mere open carry of a firearm, absent additional facts and circumstances, should not result in a disorderly conduct charge.”

The Attorney General indicates that a Terry stop might still be warranted and would not be illegal, if it is brief and only to ascertain identity and purpose. An officer cannot harass (my wording) a citizen who is openly carrying a handgun.

You’ll want to catch the reaction of the Milwaukee police chief before heading onto his turf. He apparently has ordered his officers to “put the person on the ground” and then find out if he is carrying legally. Gee, what country is Chief Ed Flynn from? I think he is several thousand miles and a few decades out of place. Apparently, he missed the message that Milwaukee is still in Wisconsin. Was he out of town?

You can read the Wisconsin Attorney General’s Memo here:

Wisconsin almost passed a concealed-carry law a while back. Well, the legislators did pass it, but Gov. Doyle vetoed it and then he was able to muscle just enough legislators to prevent an over-ride of his veto. Next time, next time…

And in Illinois?

Postcard stamps - $0.27 or $0.30

Today I ventured into the Woodstock Post Office to buy a few of the Forever stamps – not too many, but why not take advantage of the savings now, by forking out money ahead of time and beating the May 11 rate increase.

While I was there, I asked a question that I thought might have a short, easy answer. “What’s the difference between a ‘postcard stamp’ and a ‘stamped card’?”

I’ll admit that it has been a long time since I bought any “stamped cards”. Those are the cards from the Post Office with the postage already printed on them. I had started buying those because it was getting harder and harder to find picture postcards as I traveled. By buying the “stamped cards” I could even pre-address them and then just jot a note and drop it in some strange Virginia mountain town I was passing through and hope it would get delivered.

Now imagine the discussion I had with the postal clerk today (she was very patient with me and I should have gotten her name, so that I could thank her here), as she tried to explain to me that, until the rate increase in a week, I could buy stamps for postcards for $0.27 each. Then she showed me a “stamped card” with $0.27 postage already printed on it – but told me I would have to pay $0.30 for it.

Huh? So the card is stamped with $0.27 pre-printed postage, but I have to pay $0.30 for it? Right.

It turns out that the Post Office thinks its card is worth $0.03. So why don’t they just print $0.30 postage on it? They can’t do that because the postage for a postcard is $0.27. Confused yet? I certainly was. After all, the money all goes into the same kettle.

Ahh, but then I remembered I’m dealing with the government – or almost.

It all seemed to make sense to her. I almost bought one of the cards, just to frame it. Maybe I still will.

By the way, did you know that your postcard must be a minimum size of 3½” x 5” and a maximum size of 4¼” x 6” to go by the basic “postcard stamp” rate? Over-sized postcards get more advertising attention, and they also require more postage.

The Importance of Walking

Many thanks to the unknown person who wrote this and to Lori in Texas for sending it to me.

"Walking can add minutes to your life. This enables you at 85 years old to spend an additional 5 months in a nursing home at $7000 per month.

My grandpa started walking five miles a day when he was 60. Now he's 97 years old and we don't know where he is.

I like long walks, especially when they are taken by people who annoy me.

The only reason I would take up walking is so that I could hear heavy breathing again.

I have to walk early in the morning, before my brain figures out what I'm doing.

I joined a health club last year, spent about 400 bucks. Haven't lost a pound. Apparently you have to go there.

Every time I hear the dirty word “exercise”, I wash my mouth out with chocolate.

I do have flabby thighs, but fortunately my stomach covers them.

The advantage of exercising every day is so when you die, they'll say, “Well, she looks good doesn't she?”

If you are going to try cross-country skiing, start with a small country.

I know I got a lot of exercise the last few years … just getting over the hill.

We all get heavier as we get older, because there's a lot more information in our heads. That's my story and I'm sticking to it.


Every time I start thinking too much about how I look, I just find a Happy Hour and by the time I leave, I look just fine."

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Woodstock City Calendar - blank

Take a look this week at the City Calendar (called the Community Calendar). You'll find it on the City's homepage at

Take a good look at it. It's blank, except for next Saturday's Farmer's Market. Did any government meetings take place in April? Of course! There were many. But you wouldn't know it from the Calendar.

Earlier this month I contacted the City Manager's office and asked if meetings that were on the schedule (City Council, Historic Preservation Commission, Board of Fire and Police Commissioners, Plan Commission, etc.) could remain on the calendar as a public record.

The answer? The computer is programmed to delete them after the meeting date passed.

Well, guess what? Just uncheck the box that instructs the computer program to delete past meetings. A computer upgrade shouldn't be necessary, nor should a programmer be needed for five hours of study and efforts to remove the little "x" from the box.

Compare the Woodstock calendar with the County Board Calender at Take a look; why does the County not make all its past meetings "disappear"?

If you think Woodstock should retain past meetings on the Calendar, email and also your City Council representatives.

Red-light cameras

Back on February 26 I wrote about the new Administrative Adjudication Court that Woodstock is creating, and I wondered whether red-light tickets would be handled there. (They will be.)Towns like to process those tickets in their own courts, because they can hang onto all the money. If the tickets go to McHenry County Traffic Court, the town's slice of the pie shrinks considerably.

This morning's Northwest Herald lets us know that Woodstock is, indeed, pondering the wisdom and the economics of red-light cameras.

Personally, I favor use of red-light cameras. It's almost impossible for a cop to nail a red-light violator, because the cop has to get through cross-traffic to pursue the violator.

But is Woodstock big enough to afford red-light cameras? If the City has to guarantee the camera equipment provider $8,-10,-12,000 each month, there will have to be a lot of violators. Frankly, I don't think it's that big of a problem here.

And pretty quickly the word gets around about the cameras. In fact, a driver who is half-awake ought to be able to see the huge warning signs which are required to be posted. Now, what would be the situation if the warning signs didn't have to be posted? Should they be there?

Just think about all the screaming and gnashing of teeth, if a driver ran a red light and then got a ticket in the mail, if there were no signs. The yellow light and the red light should be plenty of warning.

A long green gives the approaching driver some warning. After all, lights don't stay green forever. And the yellow? For many, it means "Step on the gas." However, in towns with red-light cameras, the yellow now means, "Make a good choice." If the driver has been watching the green and the traffic, he might slow just a little if he anticipated the light might change.

If the driver is paying attention, there won't be any panic stops. When approaching a "stale" green, you expect it to change to yellow, and so you prepare to stop. As you approach the intersection, you watch the light and the distance to the intersection, so that you know right where the "Go/No Go" point is. And, if you pass that point, then you know that you're going through, if the light changes.

Watch the idiot behind you who is tailgating you. You can avoid getting rear-ended, if you slow down, which forces him (her?) to slow down, as you approach an intersection on a long green. And, if you do have to go through just as the light turns red, in order to avoid getting rear-ended, get a good look at that driver (who will follow you through), get the license plate number, and stop and call the police. Complain about the tail-gater. Ask for a ticket to be issued to that driver, which will require you to go to court and testify.

It's going to cost you $100 and him a $100, and you might as well make sure it costs him another $100-150 (plus court costs) for a "following too closely" or "careless driving" ticket.

"If you build it, ...

..., they will come."

Remember that well-known line from the movie, Field of Dreams?

Each time I drive on U.S. 14 toward Crystal Lake, I wonder when ground preparation and building will begin for the baseball stadium that was rushed through the City Council last fall. The developer just had to have a rush approval. And the City Council bought his urgency.

There has been good weather this spring - lots of time to get started.

This photo looks east from the parking lot of Catalent. Can't see anything but weeds.

On the east end of the project, off Lily Pond Road, some grading work has begun. Of course, that's where the money (errr, gravel) is. Understandably, gravel for concrete for construction requires some plans for houses and subdivisions to be built, an unlikely prospect for the near future.

Have all of the 50 conditions imposed by the City Council for this project been met? All of them?

Perhaps the City Council will summon the developer to a public City Council meeting for an explanation. Oh, wait. The Council made its decision and now has left everything up to City management. Now, that's call delegation.

Must City Obey State Laws?

How important is it that a City obey Illinois state laws? And who enforces violations?

When State laws are broken by an entity of the City, staffed by officials of the City, should it (and they) be held accountable? Or, if the absence of an individual or a concerned citizen securing the services of a private attorney to fight "city hall", does the matter just get swept under the carpet?

Take, for example, the recent disciplinary action taken by the Woodstock Police Department against Officer Jim O'Doherty.

Jim found himself in difficulty with the Walworth County (Wisconsin) Sheriff's Department on February 26, when he was charged with three traffic violations involving alcohol. Those charges are still pending and are moving through the court system. In Wisconsin, at least, a person charged is presumed innocent until found guilty.

Woodstock Police Chief Bob Lowen promptly filed departmental charges against Ofc. O'Doherty and called a meeting of the Woodstock Board of Fire and Police Commissioners, which is an entity of the City of Woodstock (not of the Police Department, although it meets at the police department behind locked doors).

On March 2nd the Board suspended Ofc. O'Doherty with pay. Chief Lowen attended this meeting.

Twelve days later the Board met on March 12 and suspended Ofc. O'Doherty without pay. Chief Lowen did not attend this meeting.

Ofc. O'Doherty did not attend either meeting, because he did not know of either meeting.

Where does the law come in?

Discipline by the Board is governed by State law at 65 ILCS 5/10-2.1-17. You can read it for yourself by going to

In the very first paragraph it reads, in part: "...No officer ... of the police department shall be removed or discharged except for cause, upon written charges, and after an opportunity to be heard in his own defense..." (emphasis added)

In the second paragraph it reads, in part: "...The board of fire and police commissioners shall conduct a fair and impartial hearing of the charges, to be commenced within 30 days 0f the filing thereof..."

And further, "If the officer ... is found guilty, the board may discharge him, or may suspend him not exceeding 30 days without pay."

The problems in Woodstock and the apparent violations of State law?

1. The Board did not give Ofc. O'Doherty any opportunity to be heard in his own defense before suspending him, either with pay (March 2) or without pay (March 12).
2. The Board did not commence a fair and impartial hearing by April 2. It glanced at March 23 and never scheduled it. It scheduled a meeting for April 6 but canceled it on April 3.
3. The Board suspended him, with pay and then without pay, without finding him guilty.
4. The Board suspended him for a period longer than 30 days; that period was up on April 12.

After the TRO filed by Ofc. O'Doherty was denied, there was talk of a Board meeting on May 12.

What does failure to follow State law mean to the other 30+ sworn members of the Woodstock Police Department? Do they now feel considerably less secure in their jobs, because they see the "example"? Why would any one of them think that he (or she) will get a fair hearing, if the Board can turn up its collective nose at the State law and get away with it?

Is this a matter for the McHenry County State's Attorney or the Illinois Attorney General?

Monday, April 27, 2009

Favorite four-letter word

Recently I was talking with a friend about raising money for a good purpose, and she commented on how negative many people were when they were approached for a donation. It seemed that people dragged out 101 reasons for not donating, as if they needed an excuse for saying "No."

I was reminded of a story I heard more than 40 years ago about a man who was the worst typewriter (remember typewriters?) salesman in his company. He was about to be fired, although his manager didn't really want to give up on him.

His manager assigned him the Empire State Building, with these orders: "Ride the elevator to the top of the building. Knock on every door that doesn't say "Women" on it. Open the door, stick your head in, and say, "You don't want to buy any typewriters today, do you?"

If the secretary says, "No", thank her, close the door and go on. If she doesn't say "No", go in.

Now that has got to be the worst sales talk ever; right?

And so he followed his orders. And it didn't take long at all for him to become the best typewriter salesman!

Back to my friend and the money-raising. As she was relating her story about all the people who would likely say "No" to her cause, I interrupted and asked if she knew what my favorite four-letter word is.

If they aren't buying, you say to yourself, "N-E-X-T !!!" and move on.

Post Office News

Are you ready for the postage hike coming in May? Do you know that rates go up on May 11? What are the new rates?

$0.44 First Class, first ounce (up $0.02)
$0.17 First Class, second ounce (no change)
$0.28 postcard
$0.31 "stamped card"

OK, so what is a "stamped card"? Is a "stamped card" the familiar "picture postcard" to which you affix a stamp? Is that what is to be $0.31?

Is a "postcard" the USPS postcard with the postage already on it?

You might still be able to buy Forever stamps for $0.42. Those are the stamps that are good "forever", regardless of future increases in first-class postage rates.

And another change? Recently I took a nicely and tightly wrapped package to the Post Office to mail. You know the type - wrapped in grocery-bag paper, taped across the seams. And guess what I learned?

One of the days you won't be able to wrap it yourself and mail it. You'll have to mail/ship your item in a box. Where do you buy the box? At the Post Office, of course.

Just another money-making gimmick. Those guys will be driving themselves out of business pretty soon.

Just what is it worth to have a mail carrier trudging up and down the lawns to deliver the mail. It ought to be a nice $30,000/year job. Who knows what carriers and counter clerks really get paid?

I recall a Post Office counter clerk in Santa Fe, New Mexico in 1989 who was so stoned that he couldn't count out ten postal cards I was trying to buy. The postmaster told me that counter position paid $33,000/year, and that was in 1989! I told her she ought to fire the guy and hire a clerk from 7-11 for $5.75/hour, but the unions were too strong.

Advertising in Live Theater?

Recently I wrote about my reaction to advertising at the Raue Center in Crystal Lake. An audio advertisement for a car dealership was broadcast just before the start of the performance and there was an invitation to applaud to commercial sponsorships of the program.

I posted a survey with the question, "Should live-theater audiences be subjected to audio advertising?"

Early in the week-long survey, the numbers favoring such advertising ran well ahead of those not in favor but, by the end of the week, they were almost even. The results?

Yes 20 (51%)
No 19 (49%)

When 49% of even a small sample is not in favor of such advertising, I'd say that's a pretty strong message to that theater and to every theater that patrons/customers do not want to be subjected to in-theater audio or visual advertising.

MCC Golf Tournament - puh-leez!

I was going to lay off MCC for blowing $180,000+++ on Walt Packard's President Emeritus package, but today's full-page ad in the Northwest Herald (Page 9A) re-kindled my anger.

It was bad enough, in my opinion, to fail to disclose that Mr. Packard wasn't "just" stepping out of the picture on short notice to care for his ailing wife. That was a caring, compassionate step. Many probably felt, as I did, that sacrificing his job to care for his wife was a noble and honorable decision.

Only, it turns out, he didn't "sacrifice" his job. Thanks for a FOIA request by the Northwest Herald, we now know that Mr. Packard gets his salary AND his health insurance AND his retirement contribution for the full year of his absence. My guess is that adds up to $250,000.

And now MCC advertises its June 5th "Out-of-This World Experience" at a Lake Geneva golf club. And you'll love this...

"Your support (of the golf tournament) helps turn the dream of a college education into a reality. It's Our Promise."

Well, I've got news for the MCC Trustees and Officers. $250,000 would have gone a long way to turn some dreams into a college education for some students.

Probably the worst aspect of the next year's payments to Mr. Packard is the secrecy that MCC sought by not releasing that information up-front. Had it announced Mr. Packard's departure AND his compensation package, MCC would have felt a little heat from the public and it would have blown over.

Now we have reason to be suspect of many expenditures of the College and to start paying close attention to all the decisions of the Trustees and Officers. Call the College and find out when the Trustees meet. Start attending their meetings and speaking up and speaking out. Let them know that they are accountable for their decisions!

And no more secrets! Promise?

Sunday, April 26, 2009

Opera House, Sat. - be there!

On this Saturday, May 2, a very special program will be presented at 8:00PM. Special in many ways.

The Thresholds Theater Arts Project will offer a dynamic presentation of the rarely heard and often misunderstood artistic voices of individuals with mental illness. "Thresholds of a Family" will be presented at 8:00PM at the Woodstock Opera House.

Admission is free, but reservations are encouraged. If you don't have a reservation, just show up, anyway. And bring friends and neighbors. Let's see if we can pack the Opera House for this one-night performance. Donations are welcome and will be appreciated.

May is Mental Health Month. In celebration of it, the McHenry County Mental Health Board, Behavioral Health Foundation, the Association of Community Mental Health Authorities of Illinois, and the Mental Health Resource League are celebrating hope and recovery with this performance.

Mark your calendar now. See you there. Arrive early for the best seats.

Need more information? Email Barb Iehl at or call her at (815) 455-2828.

Saturday, April 25, 2009

Stimulus Monies for Schools

The great pork barrel continues to pump out money (no comment here on how "we" are ever going to pay it back), and a parent in Marengo let me know of stimulus monies expected by the Marengo School District. She was alerted by another parent who spotted a small notice in a school bulletin, announcing a meeting for a Friday at 3:00PM.

Now that's a great time, right? A time when many parents will be available, right? Everyone knows that parents can leave work early to attend a school meeting or just knock off for the whole day on Friday or kick back and leave their kids standing at the schoolhouse curb or let the kids arrive home to an empty, locked house (look out for DCFS, folks! if you are at school, will they report you for not being home to care for your little kids?), so that they can attend and participate in decisions about how their schools will spend this welfare benefit from Washington.

And so that prompted me to wonder whether Woodstock D200 will be holding any public meetings to announce how much it expects to receive and how it will spend those monies.

Will it go for "jobs" (retention of existing teachers (Note: lay-offs have been announced)) or new hires? Or will it go for raises? Or technology? Or supplies? Will it go to Special Education services?

The next (last of the school year?) D200 School Board meeting will be this Tuesday, April 28, 2009, 7:00PM, at Mary Endres Elementary School, 2181 North Seminary Avenue.

Although the calendar indicates that the School Board meets on the second and fourth Tuesday except in summer months and December, no meetings are on the calendar for May or June. Is June a "summer" month? What happened to May meeting dates? If the Board meets in May, the second Tuesday is May 12, and the fourth Tuesday is May 26 (day after Memorial Day).

Example, outrageous traffic court costs

A comment was just posted to the September 21, 2008, article about Exorbitant Traffic Court Costs. Read this:

"I got two tickets, one for an expired license sticker, and one ticket for not having insurance( which I have now). The judge fined me 15 dollars for the expired sticker and 100 dollars. I walked out of there 500 dollars in the hole. I get mad just talking about it. How can they justify tacking on 380 dollars to a 125 dollar fine? I feel like I was robbed. I'm writing to my state legislator because I want to vent about this."

This reader's example is typical of a day in McHenry County Traffic Court!

The judges tell those in the courtroom not to get mad at them and not to get mad at the ladies at the payment counter, because court costs (which are in addition to fines, which are set by the judge) are set by the Illinois legislature and the McHenry County Board. The judges know of these exorbitant court costs, and they often "go easy" on traffic violators, because they know the violator is going to get clobbered at the payment window.

One of the reasons we don't have a revolution in this county or this state or this country is because relatively few of us are affected by these outrageous court costs. And too many of those who are affected have little personal power. They aren't huge money contributors to County Board members or to state legislators.

To read the prior article, search (upper left on this site) for "exorbitant".

What we must scream is, "Enough!" What we need is "Annual Traffic Court Costs Day" when everyone goes down the throats of his County Board member and State Representative - state-wide. Let them feel the heat.

Another solution would be for the police (especially the State Police) to ticket legislators who are speeding to and from Springfield. And for judges to convict them! Think it doesn't happen? I've heard of 80-90-100 MPH by our McHenry County reps. Next time you see them, ask "How long does it take you to drive to Springfield?" If they tell you four hours, try not to laugh while you are standing in front of them.

Let me know. At least one of them will not answer that question from me.

Friday, April 24, 2009

WDBA delays Annual Meeting

The Woodstock Downtown Business Association (WDBA) has announced a delay in its Annual Meeting. The Annual Meeting, usually held in April, will be held in June on a date yet to be announced, after the WDBA learns of its allocation expected from the City of Woodstock.

The City's funding is crucial at this time to the continued operations of the WDBA, but it should be only a portion of the revenues raised by the organization. A more desirable funding mechanism would be a balance of contributions from business owners in Woodstock (not just downtown), residents and community supporters and the City.

The WDBA and the Illinois Main Street program are vital to building and sustaining a thriving, vibrant, downtown Woodstock. Classic Cinemas is making a huge investment on Main Street by expanding its movie theater operation. This expansion should draw large numbers of customers to the Square.

Many see only a larger parking problem on the Square, but with the right atmosphere and marketing many of these customers will do much more than just drive to the Square, see a movie and leave.

Even in an economic downturn (call it whatever - a recession or a depression) entertainment seems to do well. Services and merchandise at the right price, and delivered with the right attitude, will mean stores and businesses staying in business.

Downtown Woodstock must be better organized. Do you know there are three tattoo parlors near the Square? Does this type of business show up in a thriving downtown area or in one headed down a long slope into oblivion?

Customer service in every business should be first class. There is no room for poor customer service. Hint: perhaps the Chamber of Commerce ought to organize a customer service seminar and offer it to every business, and then "persuade" business owners to send their employees. Maybe a customer service rating scale/survey would help identify those businesses that need a little "help".

I recall buying a book in a bookstore on the Square when I first moved to Woodstock. As I recall, it was located near Lloyd's Paint and Paper. I had ordered a book and was in the store to pick it up. As the clerk began to wait on me, the phone rang. I could tell she was debating whether to ring up my purchase or answer the phone.

"Do you mind if I answer the phone?" she asked.

"Yes," I replied.

She looked surprised at my answer, but she answered it anyway and found herself engaged in a long conversation with a phone shopper. Five minutes later, when she finally took my money, I told her that had not really worked very well for me that she remained on the phone so long. The name of the book I was buying? Radical Honesty, by Brad Blanton.

I laughed as I walked to my car, thinking, "I shouldn't have bought that book. I should have written that book!"

OK, readers. What stores here in Woodstock give great customer service? And which ones don't? Use the comment section below.

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Wheaton gun forum

The ISRA would like to say “thanks” to all the patriotic gun owners who attended the anti-gun “forum” in Wheaton, Illinois Tuesday night.

Unfortunately, the room in which the “forum” was held only has a legal occupancy of 175 persons. Well before the “forum” began, that capacity was exceeded by at least 50 persons. As a result, the fire chief ordered the room closed to new attendees. Unfortunately, that meant that several dozen of you were not allowed in to the hearing room. Nonetheless, the spirit of your support was felt by those who were seated in the room.

For those of you who have been to this sort of event in the past, what you heard from the anti-gunners was the same old song and dance. They claim to support the 2nd Amendment, yet push for the passage of laws that would make exercise of gun rights impractical if not impossible. They claim that they want only to keep guns out of the “...hands of criminals,” yet the legislation they support would register gun owners like sex offenders and ban and confiscate their guns as well. As you heard during the “forum,” the anti-gunners cite suspicious polling numbers to lay claim to widespread support for their gun control program – even among gun owners. If the gun control movement has such wide support, how come their supporters never show up for any events like that held Tuesday night?

For those of you who have never seen the anti-gunners in action before, Tuesday night must have been an eye-opener for you! It should be evident to you by now that the anti-gunners do not care about the facts. They cannot be reasoned with. No amount of “education” is going to change their minds. They are not interested in hearing what you have to say – as evidenced by their behavior Tuesday night. All they want to hear from you is an admission that YOUR guns are responsible for the murders committed in Chicago every weekend. They want to hear you apologize for daring to own a gun. They want to hear you say that you are ready to turn your guns in for destruction. That is what the anti-gunners want to hear from you.

The bottom line is this – members of the gun control movement hate you. They want to neutralize you politically. They will try to stigmatize you socially. They will seek to isolate you culturally. All that simply because you choose to own a gun. If Tuesday night convinced you of anything, it should be that there is no middle ground on this issue. The gun control movement has one objective, and one objective only – the prohibition of private firearm ownership. The only thing that stands in their way is you, the law-abiding firearm owner. Therefore, it is critical that you vigorously and forcefully defend your rights whenever they are attacked as they were Tuesday night.

Source: Illinois State Rifle Association (published with permission)

Comcast - great customer service

Yesterday I called Comcast to inquire about public-access TV channel broadcasting of City Council meetings. Wouldn't it be nice to be able to watch the Woodstock City Council meetings right from the comfort of your own living room?

After weaving my way through the voice tree at (800) COMCAST and then a long wait, a male customer service rep calmed me down and gave me the telephone number at another department. And when I called that number?

Imagine my surprise and pleasure at the friendly greeting and offer to help. The young woman who answered that number informed me that I could get the information I wanted, but from a man at a different number. She inquired whether I was ready to write the number and then spoke it carefully, so that I could write it down on the first try. Then she gave me the name of the man who had the information and spelled his name. And then she offered to transfer me to that man!

Now, that's what I call Great Customer Service.

When he called back later in the day, he explained that the Comcast Government Affairs Department handles requests for public access broadcasting and that the request must come from the City of Woodstock.

If you would watch City Council meetings and would like for Comcast to broadcast them (I think there is no charge to Woodstock), send an email to

Send a cc: to, too.

Traffic Light Malfunctions

What do you do when you see a traffic light that is malfunctioning? Do you even notice that it is not working correctly?

Recently the traffic light on Route 47 at McHenry Avenue (Route 120) in Woodstock was giving a long left-turn arrow for northbound traffic, even when there were no cars in the left-turn lane. Something like this is easy to spot when you are northbound in the through lane. But it's especially annoying when you are southbound. You see northbound traffic starting forward, but you don't get a green then you might wonder why northbound traffic got a green and you have to just sit there.

Left-turn lanes have a "loop" that alerts the signal box that a car is in the left-turn lane. A design function is that, when the loop breaks, then the left-turn arrow will come on for every cycle, as if a car is in the left-turn lane. This will help the driver in the lane with the broken loop, so he doesn't have to sit there until the cows come home.

I reported the problem to the IDOT Communications Center, where an operator told me she had to have the Woodstock PD check it out. Upon confirmation from Woodstock PD, IDOT would dispatch a repair crew. When the signal was still malfunctioning a week later, I followed up. An IDOT supervisor looked into it and had the problem fixed very promptly.

I also received a nice note from IDOT, explaining that the repairs should not have taken so long. Usually, IDOT can send a contractor to fix a traffic signal within a day or two, depending on the urgency of the problem. Certainly, there was no emergency to this. It just belonged in the normal schedule for repairs.

If you see a problem with a traffic signal on a state road, report it to your local police department and ask it to notify IDOT.

I'd like to think that patrol officers (or fire/rescue or paramedics or tow truck drivers) all notice such malfunctions and report them for repairs. Using email is the best method, because it puts it in writing and provides an easy follow-up method, if prompt repairs aren't made. For Woodstock, send such requests to

Customer No-Service at TCF

Last Sunday I stopped at the TCF Bank counter in the Woodstock Jewel-Osco to get a roll of quarters. (No, I wasn't heading to a poker game!) Imagine my surprise, when the teller asked if I had an account there. And then refused to "sell" me a roll of quarters for the $10 bill I was holding!

She said something about not being able to go into the vault, if I weren't a customer...

Businesses have rules; sometimes they have stupid rules. If she was even following a rule...

In economic times when businesses are dying to find new customers, one would think employees would take every opportunity to serve the person who asks for anything, because you just might convert them into a customer.

What if she had said, "I'll be happy to give you a roll of quarters. Our policy is to do this just for our customers, and we'd really like for you to become a TCF Bank customer. Here are your quarters. May I give you some account information? Would you be more interested in a new checking, savings or CD account?"

Even if I had said "No" at the time, she would have made a dynamite impression on me, and I might just have returned to open an account.

Instead, I'll remember TCF Bank as the bank that refused to sell me a roll of quarters, even though there wasn't a customer in sight.

Have you had a poor customer service experience in Woodstock?

Hotmail account hacked

Yesterday I received an email from a friend in the State of Washington, offering me the deal of a lifetime. Too good to be true? It usually is. But what I immediately noticed was the number of spelling, grammatical and punctuation errors. I knew she was a better writer than that, so I wrote back - but not to her, to her in care of her husband, asking if her e-mail account had been hacked.

And, sure enough, it had been. They replied that the hotmail account had been out of use for months, after having been shut off by hotmail.

If you become suspicious after an email is returned to you as undeliverable, but you don't recognize the To: email address and had never sent it, contact your email provider. It could be that your account was hacked or a virus planted. Keep your good name in the clear by taking the initiative.

Several years ago one Woodstock resident found that her AOL account had been closed after it was used to send thousands of spam emails - from her account, but not using her Address Book. She reported it to AOL, and AOL restored her account. The same thing immediately happened again, because there was a virus in her computer. It took about four hours for her to remove the virus, following instructions from AOL.

And, by the way, don't click on links in any message that you consider suspicious, even if it is from a known e-mail address.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Read NWH Grace Hall article

When you read this morning's Northwest Herald article about Grace Hall, read it carefully, and see if you come up with the same thoughts I did.

The reporter is certainly correct that Grace Hall's fate remains uncertain.

The article reads that the City Council continued the ordinance "at the behest of Woodstock Christian Life Services." It wasn't quite that way. As I wrote in a separate article, the mayor handed a postponement to WCLS on a silver platter. The mayor was the one who brought up putting off the vote, not WCLS. After at least five council members indicated they were going to vote against demolition of Grace Hall, the mayor figured he'd better not let it come to a vote. And so he asked WCLS's attorney, Mark Gummerson, if he wanted the Council not to vote on the Motion in the Agenda. That's not "behest".

Is WCLS a "non-profit charity"? No, it's a not-for-profit business. When I think of "charity", I think of United Way, Salvation Army, Red Cross. I don't think of a business selling little duplexes for $200,000, plus a hefty monthly fee. And not even "selling" them for $200K.

It wasn't "eight months" ago that the City Council passed Ordinance 08-O-62. It was October 7, 2008. That's 6 1/2 months. Why stretch it to "eight"?

The article said that WCLS "offered to sell Grace Hall for $1 and have it moved to another location." Well, no, not quite. The offer was "Buy it for $1 and move it." That is, the Buyer would move it after, of course, purchasing land on which to place it AND coughing up $300,-500,000 to move it, and then another $500,000 to renovate it. The offer was initially laughable and it still is.

One of the Councilmen wisely challenged WCLS' estimated rehabilitation costs for the building. Those costs jumped 40% in ten minutes last October, after the architect said it would cost $500,000 to rehab the building and Terry Egan then said it would cost $700,000. Last night those added costs were explained as including "soft costs", like marketing.

WCLS is apparently already moving employees out of Grace Hall. Will they let it deteriorate and then come back and say that rehab costs are even higher?

How about this for an approach? You've owned Grace Hall for 53 years. Show some pride in that ownership. Get serious about an adaptive re-use. If you had spent half your efforts and money to find a good, solid, economically-feasible re-use of Grace Hall, you'd be miles ahead.

City Council bows (again) to Mayor

Why does the Woodstock City Council continually bow to the strong will of Mayor Sager? How many times have members of the Council, who are elected to represent the People of Woodstock, said they oppose something and then quickly followed with a vote in favor?

Last night was no exception! Only worse.

Item D-2 "Grace Hall" was on the Agenda. As prepared by the City Manager's office, the order of matters on the Agenda was:

1.) Consideration of the Historic Preservation Commission recommendation for landmark status.
2.) A motion allowing WCLS to redevelop the South Phase as depicted in Ordinance 08-O-62.

And so what happened? Immediately, the mayor said he wanted to table the landmark issue. And he got his way.

So much for the Historic Preservation Commission. Will this Commission be able to keep any of its members? Probably not. According to Minutes of the October 7, 2008, City Council meeting, "M. Turner said he does not like the Historic Preservation Commission feeling as those they are unappreciated."

Well, HPC, you are unappreciated (by the Council). They could show their "appreciation" by 1.) not having stalled on a landmark status vote for six months; and 2) by recognizing that 15 of 17 requirements for landmark status are met by Grace Hall. It's a no-brainer to landmark that building.

Only that would create a "problem" for WCLS, which then would encounter more obstacles to tearing it down. That problem was neatly disposed of by the Mayor last night. And the Council fell for it. Why do they let him get away with stuff like that?

All they have to do is vote against him. It starts with not making the motion he is asking for. Just don't do it. When he asks for a motion and you don't want it, don't respond. Let it die right on the spot. But, instead, after a "pregnant pause", a member of the Council makes the motion, it gets a second, the public is not allowed to comment.... and 7-0, again!

And, later, after the mayor interrupted me and would not permit me to comment on the landmark issue, the landmark issue was addressed by several speakers. Did the mayor silence them? Hmmmm.... "OK, so don't take it personally, Gus." All right, I won't.

And, at the end of two hours, when it was clear that the Council was going to vote down the WCLS request to demolish Grace Hall, what did the mayor do? Well, if he were a pitcher at the new ballfield planned for Woodstock (oh, by the way, where .... well, I won't go there right now), he served up a home-run ball. Just lob it over the plate where they can't miss it.

I have never been at a City Council meeting, in any town, where the mayor headed off a clear "No" vote by handing one side a "right", as he called it. It was up to WCLS and Mark Gummerson to claim its "right" (if, indeed, it even was a "right"), but the mayor made sure they stepped up to the plate and got the bat off their shoulders.

To have the matter postponed is not a "right". Certainly, WCLS could have asked for the Council to delay its vote, and then the Council would have decided whether to do so. "Semantics," you say? Well, that came up earlier when Councilman Ahrens said that WCLS had not "consulted with the Lemanskis ... to work out a compromise to the demolition of Grace Hall." (Ord. 08-O-62, C.). Ahrens said there was no compromise, the goal being compromise. Mayor Sager said WCLS had "consulted", the goal being consulting. Ahrens was right, but the Mayor prevailed. When you consult without having a obligation to create a result, nothing happens - the exact case here.

WCLS had not met one of only two conditions placed on it on October 7, and that meant it didn't matter whether the Lemanskis had met any condition.

By the way, the redrafting and expansion of Ordinance 08-O-62 by Attorney Rich Flood and signed by Mayor Sager - without further review and approval by the City Council - placed impossible-to-meet conditions on the Lemanskis personally. Their failure was guaranteed by the drafting of the ordinance.

All I could say, as soon as the meeting was over, was "Baaaa-aaaa-aaaaa."

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Mayor derails vote

Tonight's Woodstock City Council meeting was a whopper. Of importance to the majority of the standing-room only crowd was the expected demolition permit requested by Woodstock Christian Life Services (WCLS), so it could tear down Grace Hall.

Because there was a SRO crowd, the Mayor mentioned that one Councilman is the Fire Chief and that he would be monitoring the size of the crowd. Okay, Ralph, you know the capacity of Council Chambers. Why didn't you direct that a certain number needed to leave the room, if the capacity was exceeded tonight? (I meant to look at the Occupancy sign near the door before I left; there were about 20 standing, and I saw only one open seat.)

One of the first upsets of the evening was when Mayor Sager wanted to table the recommendation of the Woodstock Historic Preservation Commission (HPC), which was placed on the Agenda as the first item to be discussed under the general heading of the "Grace Hall" issue. And six loyal City Council persons nodded their heads. Who knows if this will ever come up in the future???

The HPC had sent its recommendation to the City Council with the 30-day period required under the City Code, which meant the City Manager received it at least by early December. In the four months just past, the City Council has refused to consider it. And then tonight it refused to consider it.

Attorney Mark Gummerson spoke eloquently on behalf of his client, WCLS. He spoke directly into the microphone and could be heard by all. And Mayor Sager spoke into his microphone, as did Rich Flood when he spoke. At times some of the others on the Council spoke into their microphones. And some of them never did.

I won't try to summarize all that was said; I'd be typing until 6:00AM. WCLS attempted to establish that it had met the conditions in Ordinance 08-O-62 and so was entitled to receive the permit. Dan Lemanski made a long prepared statement and had almost finished, when Mayor Sager began to call "Time" on him. Dan raised the issue of how the Ordinance had been expanded after the vote by the City Council in open meeting.

City Attorney Rich Flood said he had prepared the Ordinance on the day following the October 7 City Council meeting, based on his understanding of the comments and intent of the Council. He was more than a little creative and inserted language in the Ordinance that was never discussed by the Council. The Mayor then signed the Ordinance as prepared by Mr. Flood, and the City Clerk attested to the Mayor's signature. The Mayor had to notice that the Ordinance had been greatly expanded upon by City Attorney Flood, but he signed it and, by doing so, imposed harsh, impossible-to-meet conditions on two Woodstock residents by name.

Allen Stebbins, Chairman of the HPC, addressed the Council and suggested that WCLS had not met at least one of the two conditions that were imposed by the City Council in Ordinance 08-O-62.

At the microphone I expressed my disappointment in the Council's tabling the landmark issue and was quickly cut off by Mayor Sager, because that topic was no longer on the table. "Okay, then, I am very disappointed that (Item 2 (the demolition of Grace Hall) in D-2) was taken up first" (or words to that effect).

Woodstock residents should pay very carefully attention to future ordinances passed by the City Council and read the final copy as soon as the Mayor signs it. Never again should an Ordinance be changed substantially after approved in an open meeting by the Council, and then signed into law by the Mayor. And the six members of the City Council ought to be reading every Ordinance as soon as it is signed and published, to make absolutely certain, on behalf of the People they are elected to represent, that what happened with Ordinance 08-O-62 never, ever, happens again!

But the biggest upset occurred after at least five of the seven Council members indicated that they intended to vote against WCLS. What did the Mayor do? He asked WCLS if it wanted the Council not to vote today!!! In many years of attending City Council meetings here and in other communities, I have never heard a Mayor offer the losing party if it needs some breathing room. Talk about an abrogation of process!

Just imagine going to a Bears game. When the Bears are behind in the 4th Quarter with 1 minute left to play, what if the head referee asked the Bears coach if he wanted the ref to stop the game and have both teams come back in a few weeks to finish the game? Well, that's what happened tonight!

Maybe a little more public participation is needed in our too-quiet City Council meetings. Maybe about 10-15-20 people should have stood up and booed the Mayor and demanded that the City Council vote on the item that was on the Agenda.

The Council, including the Mayor, is against demolition. They urged WCLS to make a more serious effort at finding a use for Grace Hall. Terry Egan said tonight's meeting didn't go the way he expected. He mentioned "win/win", but I think he meant "I win." Right at the end of the meeting Mark Gummerson stated that WCLS is moving its employees out of Grace Hall.

WCLS can "win". It can find a reasonable, beneficial, profitable use for Grace Hall. At tonight's meeting they mentioned several times how Grace Hall could be designed into two living units. Huh? Two? Only two? How about four? Or maybe five or six?

Tonight the City Council should have landmarked Grace Hall and turned down the demolition permit. WCLS should get serious about adaptive re-use of Grace Hall. It is not going to let the building fall into disrepair. The City and the People of Woodstock will not tolerate that.

Monday, April 20, 2009

Financial Self-Help Books

There was an interesting program on NPR today that included a disabled woman in another state who is buried in bills. She doesn't have the $2,000 that a lawyer would charge her to file bankruptcy.

One guest on the program suggested that she just ignore creditors. Because she has no property or assets, she was judgement-proof. She was worried about her credit, but another guest said it had been trashed already, so why worry.

One of the speakers suggested the woman could file her own bankruptcy without a lawyer and mentioned a website with financial self-help books. You can check it out at

Sometimes you can do forms yourself (even Wills, trust, business agreements). I highly recommend having a lawyer or legal service review what you put together. I was in the life insurance business for almost 20 years and worked with top-flight attorneys and trust officers in Denver. I wrote my own life insurance trust and then had my lawyer at Pre-Paid Legal Services review it for me.

I pay $17.00/month for my pre-paid legal services plan. A year's worth of monthly payments is less than one hour of legal time from a halfway decent lawyer. I can call as often as I want with questions. And I do call often. The first year they provided a Will for me, included in the rate I pay. Also, all the advance medical directives. It's a heck of a deal.

As a rep, I can provide information on the plans to you and help you sign up, if you are interested. It's sort of like a parachute. Better to have it and not need it, than to need it and not have it.

Legal bill - ever surprised?

Have you ever been surprised by the large amount of a bill from your lawyer?

Yes - 7 (35%)
No - 13 (65%)

Many thanks to the 20 readers who responded to this survey.

Certainly, there was nothing scientific about this survey. It’s all relative. What might be a large bill to me, might not be so to another person.

Before you authorize legal work, ask your lawyer what it’s going to cost you. Here are some good questions:

How much is your hourly billing rate for courtroom appearance, trials, etc.?
Do I pay for travel time to the courthouse?
How much is your hourly billing rate for out-of-court work?
How many hours do you expect to work on this project?
How do I establish a stopping point at which you must get further written authorization from me before proceeding with billable work?
What work can be done by an associate or paralegal at a lower hourly rate, and what is the billing rate for their work?
If your associate/paralegal and you meet to discuss my legal work, do I get billed for all the time of those involved?
What breakdown of billing time do I receive with my statement?
What are your payment terms? (Expect “due upon receipt of statement”)
What happens if I don’t, or can’t, pay?

There must additional questions that should be asked. If you have a favorite or important one, please post it.

Crime Costs

What percent of adults in the United States is in jail or prison?

While I waited to talk with the McHenry County Assistant Court Administrator this morning, I glanced through the March 2009 issue of State Legislators magazine.

I was shocked to read "The United States has the highest incarceration rate in the world. One in every 100 adults is in a prison or jail." (Page 15)

Would you have guessed it to be that high?

Guns in the courtroom

I was shocked this morning in Judge Feetterer's courtroom when Woodstock Police Chief Bob Lowen and Deputy Chief Steve Bozer showed up for a civil hearing with their handguns strapped in the holsters on their belts. The Chief and the City's Board of Fire and Police Commissioners were defendants in a request for a temporary restraining order.

I asked the courtroom security officer what the court protocol was for armed persons in the courtroom, and he told me that defendants could not be armed. As he said that, he looked at Ofc. Jim O'Doherty, who was wearing a business suit and was seated next to his attorney.

I pointed out that he was looking at the Plaintiff and that the Defendant in the case was seated in the spectator seating and armed. I asked him to confer with the judge about whether the judge would allow an armed defendant in his courtroom. I don't know whether he did, but nothing was said when court began.

It was just a year ago that Woodstock Police Officer Sandra Valle was suspended for seven days without pay by the Woodstock Board of Fire and Police Commissioners for showing up at the courthouse court in uniform and armed. She was there on a personal matter involving her son that was scheduled before the time she was to appear, according to the Northwest Herald, "in another court case that morning on behalf of the city."

At the time prosecutor Greg Barry, of Zukowski, Rogers, Flood, and, McArdle, which is the law firm that is contracted as City Attorney by the City of Woodstock, was quoted in a Northwest Herald article on April 3, 2007, as saying, "I felt very pressured and nervous. She was a police officer, and my prior experience was that you take some direction from police officers because they are our clients."

Now, first of all, what kind of statement is that? It doesn't even make any sense. Does he mean that a police officer tells the prosecuting attorney how he is going to conduct himself in court, and he'd better do what she said because she was armed? Was he worried that Sandra was going to whip out her pistol and beat him over the head with it? Or shoot him?

Let me hasten to say that I do not know Sandra and, to my knowledge, have never spoken with her.

But let's get back to guns in the courtroom...

Should Jeff Burke of the FOP or Ofc. O'Doherty have complained to the judge that they were nervous, worried, feeling pressured with an armed defendant sitting near them in a civil trial. I wonder what Judge Feetterer would have said about that.

Thirty years ago in Arapahoe County, Colorado, only the bailiff was armed in the courtroom. When police officers or deputy sheriffs were in the courtroom, their weapons had been checked into secure lockers out of the courtroom, and their holsters were empty. This is how it should be in McHenry County.

I left a message for Court Administrator Dan Wallace to discuss my request for a no-guns policy with the judges, and I hope I'll hear back from him with a positive response.

If you agree, call Mr. Wallace right away at 815-334-4000; ask for Court Adminstration. Or you can fax to him at 815-338-0248. And, if you are acquainted with any McHenry County judges, tell them how you feel about armed, uniformed officers appearing in court as defendants (or even plaintiffs) in civil cases.

City prevails against TRO

Judge Feetterer ruled this afternoon in favor of the City of Woodstock and denied the preliminary injunction requested by Ofc. Jim O'Doherty. Judge Feetterer reviewed certain provisions of the Municipal Code at 65 ILCS 5/10-21.1-17 and of the negotiated contract between the police officers and the City that was approved with an effective date of May 1, 2008.

He referred to the procedure to be followed by the Board of Fire and Police Commissioners (BOFPC) in the above section of the Municipal Code. In fact, he read the section in the courtroom.

It seems to me that what might be construed initially by Jim O'Doherty as a loss today, when Judge Feetterer denied the temporary restraining order, is actually a win. The BOFPC is required by Illinois law to grant Ofc. O'Doherty "an opportunity to be heard in his own defense." That has never been provided. But that did not come up today.

The BOFPC is to do so when discipline is "removal or discharge." Removal from duty, being charged with misdeeds that, if successfully made by the Chief, would lead to discharge, suspension without pay, ordered to stay off City property - wouldn't this constitute "removal"?

And, so, where was the opportunity to be heard in his own defense?

Further, the BOFPC is required, under State law, to conduct a "fair and impartial hearing" within 30 days.

Perhaps, rather than spending a few thousand dollars on special counsel to assist a partner attorney from the office of the City Attorney, the City ought to figure out how to move through procedural steps in a fair manner. To date, it has not done so.

In talking with Jim after court, I learned that the City is going to cancel his health insurance. He hasn't been fired; he is still an employee of the Woodstock Police Department. The reason for the insurance cancellation? He has been on a Leave of Absence for more than 30 days. It seems not to matter to the City that Jim never requested a Leave of Absence!

Is this notice to every employee of the City of Woodstock that it has the right to "give" you a "Leave of Absence" for 30 days and then cancel your health insurance?

There is a standard of fairness that needs to exist. And it surely doesn't at this time!

Can the chief discipline an officer?

Arguments were made to Judge Feeterer this morning in the case of O’Doherty vs. the Woodstock police chief and the Board of Fire and Police Commissioner, and Judge Feeterer is expected to issue his decision at 1:30PM.

Choosing a seat this morning in the courtroom was a little like going to church wedding and having to choose whether to sit on the bride’s side or the groom’s side. What if you like both?

I wanted to be able to hear, so I sat on the side closer to the judge’s bench. That put me behind Jim O’Doherty, his attorney from the Fraternal Order of Police (FOP) and Ofc. Louis Vasquez. On the other side of the aisle were Chief Lowen, Deputy Chief Bozer and the two attorneys for the police department, David McArdle of the law firm that represents the City and John Kelly, special counsel “for all the defendants”, as he introduced himself for the record.

Ofc. Vasquez was there to answer questions about the current contract between the police department and the officers. The defense immediately objected, but the judge said he would hear the testimony and then decide whether to give it any weight in his consideration. Although the contract is new, the effective date was retroactive to May 1, 2008.

The gist of the argument between the two sides is whether an officer has the right to go to arbitration or if he must first go through the Board of Fire and Police Commissioners. The new contract seemed clear until the questions (picky questions – like those I would raise) were asked. And then the waters started to get muddy.

The FOP attorney presented his arguments first, on behalf of the Plaintiff, Jim O’Doherty. He explained that the contract gives an officer the choice of BOFPC or an arbitrator.

Then Mr. Kelly, representing the police chief and the Board of Fire and Police Commissioners (BOFPC), argued that an arbitrator could only be used after the BOFPC had heard the case and made its decision.

While Judge Feeterer mostly listened to the FOP attorney and asked a few questions, he engaged almost in a Q&A with Mr. Kelly, repeatedly asking for clarification and explanation of the position of the defense.

Mr. Kelly made an interesting argument that the police chief cannot fire any police officer. Only the BOFPC can fire an officer. Which caused me to begin wondering how the process in Woodstock really works. While the chief cannot actually carry out the firing, he can make a recommendation to the BOFPC that an officer be fired. What’s the difference, if the BOFPC agrees?

From now on, will the Chief merely inform the BOFPC that he has a problem and then ask the BOFPC what they want to do about it? Not likely! It was a novel argument. I didn’t look over at the chief to see whether he was ready to throttle his own attorney.

Mr. Kelly also asserted that Ofc. O’Doherty has not suffered “irreparable harm.” Oh, really?

Judge Feeterer read the state law relating to the BOFPC and mentioned that the BOFPC is to provide a “fair and impartial hearing”. Has it done so?

The Woodstock BOFPC met on March 2 and apparently did not notify Ofc. O’Doherty of that meeting; it suspended him “with pay”. Where was the fair and impartial hearing?

On March 12 the BOFPC met again, also apparently not notifying Ofc. O’Doherty that it would be meeting; the Chief wasn’t even there, but the BOFPC suspended O’Doherty “without pay”. Where was the fair and impartial hearing?

Then it didn’t meet on March 23 or on April 6. How far do you have to look to find “irreparable harm”?

Mr. Kelly also criticized the Contract between the police officers and the City that took a year to hammer out. The judge reminded him that the City had signed the Contract, and surely it did so only after legal representation and advice from the office of the contracted City Attorney.

Too bad they didn’t hammer out that “little” problem, which now is a big and expensive problem for the City.

OK, back to court to hear Judge Feeterer’s decision at 1:30PM.

Late Starts

A reader posted a comment to the School Sign article below and objected to "late starts."

I wonder how many other parents of students in District 200 schools find their morning routines bounced out of kilter by these one-hour delays to the school day.

Perhaps a school administrator will comment here and explain what late starts are really for. When I have been in schools on some of those mornings, some teachers are at their desks with their noses in paperwork. In my opinion, a one-hour delay so teachers can catch up on paperwork is something that parents ought to be screaming at the School Board about, before the next year's calendar in finalized.

The School Board is unconscious about the disruption in morning routines for students AND for parents when it schedules so many Late Starts. And the ripple effect is wide.

Parents who carpool must drive themselves to work (and back) that day, resulting in added commuting expense. Parents who work hourly jobs lose at least one hour's pay. Parents who have bosses who are intolerant about tardiness, regardless of reason, might find their jobs or pay at risk.

The School Board will not listen if only a few parents bark occasionally.

If three parents (out of hundreds? thousands?) showed up every month at school board meetings, the Board members would be shocked. But will they listen and act? No.

The School Board is unconscious about the disruption in morning routines for students AND parents when it schedules so many Late Starts. The School Board will not listen if a few parents bark occasionally.

They WILL listen if many parents show up at one meeting and insist on correction of this silly scheduling. Owners or representatives of businesses should show up at Board meetings, too, and explain the economic impact on their businesses, when employee-parents show up an hour late once or twice a month.

What about it, parents? How do you feel about late starts for your school-age children?

Use old coupons before May 1

A couple of months ago I wrote about Jewel-Osco's policy of accepting expired manufacturers' coupons. Well, that's about the end.

Jewel-Osco has been accepting old coupons, even though it apparently may not have been getting reimbursed by the manufacturer for coupon presented after an expiration date. It may have done so as a customer relations benefit. After all, who wants to anger a shopper who has just rung up a $200.00 order by now accepting $5.00 worth of expired coupons?

When I inquired about the policy yesterday upon seeing a newly-posted sign in the store, I learned that you'd better dig out all those old manufacturers' coupons that you have been planning to use "someday" and use them - just make that "someday" in the next ten days.

And, speaking of Jewel, are you paying attention to the new "gas rewards" print-out on your register receipt? My bonus is up to $.24/gallon now. Too bad that I only buy 10 gallons at a time. All you do is swipe your Jewel Preferred card at the gas purchase. When all else fails at the gas pump, read the instructions. This discount has a use-by date, so drive that gas hog over to Jewel Express and "fill 'er up".

Sunday, April 19, 2009

School signs - why out-of-date?

When you see this sign, what are your first thoughts? (Click on the image to enlarge it; then click on the Back button on your browser to come right back here.)
Do you wonder why someone isn't assigned to change the sign after an event has passed?

Couldn't sign changes be rotated among classes or assigned to a service club at the school or managed by a select team of students? How about a prize to the first three students who show up at Principal Lara-Oliva's office to inform him that the sign needs to be changed?

A school needn't incur large labor costs to maintain these changeable-lettering signs.

What other District 200 schools don't keep their outdoor signs current?

Moving target?

Will this driver wish he had saved his money on his special license plate, if Illinois passes a new law to prohibit text-messaging while driving? (Click on the image to enlarge it; then click on the Back button on your browser to come right back here.)

Spotted tonight in Woodstock at Lake Avenue and Route 47.

Saturday, April 18, 2009

Exercise for people over age 50

Begin by standing on a comfortable surface, where you have plenty of room at each side.

With a 5-lb potato bag in each hand, extend your arms straight out from your sides and hold them there as long as you can. Try to reach a full minute, and then relax. Each day you'll find that you can hold this position for just a bit longer.

After a couple of weeks, move up to 10-lb potato bags.

Then try 50-lb potato bags and then eventually try to get to where you can lift a 100-lb potato bag in each hand and hold your arms straight for more than a full minute.

After you feel confident at that level, put a potato in each bag.

Two Thumbs Down at the Raue

Friday's one-night stand at the Raue Center in Crystal Lake was top-notch. The actors in Bye Bye Birdie were terrific and carried their high-energy performance from the opening curtain to the final bow; well, the only bow. Whatever happened to curtain calls?

Why the two thumbs down?

One thumb for the long audio advertisement for an out-of-area car dealership that was played over the theater sound system just before the play started. I can turn off TV ads, and I can talk through ads at the movies. When I am sitting with two $59 tickets in my pocket, I do not want to be subjected to advertising in a live theater!

The second thumb down was when the announcer asked for a round of applause for two commercial sponsors for the 2 1/2-hour play. Same reasoning!

Admittedly, a troupe has high expenses to come to a town for one night. That's what ticket prices pay for. The Raue's website says that ticket sales account for only 70 percent of the Center’s needs. The remaining 30 percent comes from private support. And the advertising revenues? The Raue has already hit its 100% of needs.

Raue Center management should re-think its policy about commercialism directed at a captive audience that has already paid top dollar for tickets.

And let's hope that such tactics don't invade the Woodstock Opera House. Or have they already done so?

What can you do? Email or telephone the Raue Center and let the Director and the Board of Trustees for this non-profit organization know what you think and how in-theater advertising will affect your decision to attend performances at the Raue Center.

Email your opinion to the Director and Board of Trustees at
Call the Director at 815.356.9212

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Supervisor takes marbles, goes home

Be sure to read the article on Page 1C of this morning's Northwest Herald about the Supervisor in Seneca Township (where???) who lost her bid for re-election and quit without notice on Tuesday night, leaving the important Supervisor post unfilled until her successor takes office next month.

Ersel Schuster was Supervisor from 1992 until Tuesday night - quite a long run, wouldn't you say? What does a Township Supervisor earn? $50,000? $70,000? More? Inspection of the Township's website at reveals that, in addition to a Supervisor, there are also four Trustees, a Highway Commissioner, an Assessor, and a Clerk. What does a staff like that cost taxpayers, and what do taxpayers really get for their money?

Schuster is also a Board member of the McHenry County Board, having been elected to a four-year term just last November. Will her decision to quit with one month remaining in her elected term affect her at the next election for her County Board seat? Only time will tell, but I’m betting that voters won’t forget it.

Schuster was one of the double-dipping elected officials in the sights of activist Bob Anderson of Wonder Lake. How many other officials in McHenry County hold more than one paid, elected position or, for that matter, hold more than one taxpayer-funded position, whether elected, appointed or hired?

Assuming that she served with pride for 17 years, why wouldn't she sit through one more meeting with dignity and serve out her sentence (errr, term)?

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Street running by H.S. Track teams

A reader sent this today and reminded me that I too have seen high school track students running the streets with total disregard for motorists. Here’s what this reader had to say:

“As a rules of the road expert, I am sure you might agree with one of my peeves. Around the spring time of every year that i have lived in Woodstock (19 years now), the high school track teams have complete disregard for those rules. Every time I have seen them out running thru the city, they are on the wrong side of the street, and out in the roadway. Not an occasional haphazard chance when taking a shortcut maybe, but every single time! If it was as simple as the kids being unsupervised on their cross-country treks, it would still be irksome. I can give in on not running on the sidewalk where they do exist, but to run with your back to traffic and not obey stop signs, is not only wrong, but dangerous. One of the first road rules for pedestrians, Ride with, walk against, really should be taught before sending the kids out for run thru the city. thanks for reading my peeve.”

Recently I saw runners on Jefferson just east of the Square, running toward South Street. I don’t know which school they were from, but it would certainly be a good idea for track coaches to monitor the running routes and insist on safe running.

Many thanks to this reader for sharing his opinion!

Reckless school bus driver

This morning I was driving in Algonquin and saw a school bus driver who rivaled the woman who had a busload of unruly kids and decided to teach them a lesson by jamming on the brakes.

The driver of the bus this morning put the health and safety of his passengers at similar risk when he tailgated me at 30MPH and at 40MPH on eastbound IL 62 from IL 31. The speed limit across the Fox River is 30MPH. A couple of blocks up the hill the speed limit changes to 40MPH.

The driver of Bus No. 142 (Algonquin School District 300) was so close to the back of my car that I could count the rivets in the front fender (but I didn't). How about inches behind me at 30MPH and again at 40MPH? I guess he thought he could make me speed up and exceed the posted speed limit, but he'll get a chance to think that over.

His supervisor had my report of his reckless driving by the time he got the kids to school, and I expect to hear tomorrow about the little conference they had with the driver today. Actually, they ought to fire him. If I could have found an Algonquin police officer, I would have him ticketed and replaced, even if it would have made the kids late to school.

What good are lawyers?

Or, what are lawyers good for?

I remember a day in Colorado when an insurance prospect told me that he was going to ask his lawyer whether he ought to buy the life insurance that I was recommending to him.

What a dumb thing to ask a lawyer about, and that's exactly what I told him. And I told him that, if his lawyer told him not to buy it or to buy a different type of policy, he should get his lawyer's "advice" in writing and on the lawyer's stationery. And pay him for it.

Why? Because that would put the lawyer "in the life insurance business", if his advice turned out to be no good.

If his lawyer would not put his advice in writing on his letterhead, then it was only his opinion, and he shouldn't pay for that.

I'm not allowed to practice law because I don't have a law degree, have not passed the bar exam and am not admitted to the practice of law in any state. Likewise, a lawyer who has not studied life insurance products, companies and plans in-depth and who is not licensed to sell life insurance should not be giving advice on life insurance needs.

If you seek advice from your lawyer, don't ask him or her whether or not you should do something; for example, rob a bank. Why would anyone want to rob a bank? That's where the money is!

The right question to ask your lawyer is, what are the consequences of robbing a bank and getting caught?

Which brings me to this point...

Why isn't the Woodstock Board of Fire and Police Commissioners ("Board") convening to discuss what to do about Judge McIntyre's decision in the Sgt. Steve Gorski matter? Over a year ago the Board directed the City to pay Gorski all his back pay. Not a penny has been paid.

Who at the City is withholding the direction to pay? The HR Director? The City Manager?

The Board is a public body. It cannot make decisions in private. So it must meet to decide what to do next? Why is it failing to do so? Protocol of law tells the Board to follow a proper procedure as directed and guided by the legal council for the Board.

In this case the Board had to get a law firm from Naperville to defend itself against the very city that appointed it - the City of Woodstock! The Board cannot make any decisions about either requesting or following advice from its (outside) law firm without meeting to discuss the matter and then to hearing a motion and conducting a vote in open meeting on what to do. Anything else very likely constitutes a violation of the Illinois Open Meetings Act.

Judge McIntyre ruled on March 24 that the case was to go back to the Board of Fire and Police Commissioners. That day the Board should have scheduled a meeting. What's the delay?

Great movie and lessons

Last night I watched the 2005 movie, Knights of the South Bronx, starring Ted Danson and Keke Palmer. If you care about kids and believe in them, this is a must-see movie.

Danson portrays the type of teacher so desperately needed in our schools today. Teachers who care and show it. We have a lot of teachers who "say" they care. OK, I'm going to ruffle some teachers by challenging them to "show" that they care.

How many teachers have ever gone to a student's home to see the conditions in which he lives? Maybe then they'd understand why the student comes to school in a bad mood or dirty or hungry.

When a teacher asks, "How's everything at home?" and hears, "Uhhh, okay" and never follows up. he or she will not have a clue about what goes on at home.

I've had more than one school administrator tell me that their responsibility stops at the curb in front of the school building. Well, that's not so. They have the obligation to understand everything that affects the student's ability to learn, and sometimes they are just going to have to leave the comfortable confines of the school building and go on a little field trip to a student's home.

O’Doherty court ruling due Monday

Last Monday Woodstock Police Officer Jim O’Doherty, his attorney, and attorneys David W. McArdle and special prosecutor John Kelly, on behalf of the City of Woodstock, were in McHenry County Court for a hearing on what I believe was a Temporary Restraining Order that was filed by O’Doherty’s attorney. That TRO may be a challenge to the police department’s efforts to have charges against O’Doherty heard by the Woodstock Board of Fire and Police Commissioners ("Board"), rather than through the arbitration process of the labor contract between Woodstock Police officers and the City.

O’Doherty was suspended by the Board on March 2, after Chief Lowen brought charges following O’Doherty’s having been ticketed in Wisconsin on three traffic charges on February 26. On March 12 the Board changed the suspension to “without pay.” No hearing has yet been held.

The case was in Judge Michael T. Caldwell’s court last Monday, but the City requested a change of judge. O’Doherty’s lawyer requested that the case not be delayed, and the case was transferred to Judge Michael W. Feetterer.

The Board had met on March 2 and again on March 12, although O’Doherty was not informed of either meeting. On March 12 a Commissioner of the Board said that the Board was “tentatively” planning to hold a hearing on March 23. That hearing was never scheduled.

Should the Board have held a hearing promptly and given O’Doherty an opportunity to defend himself before making any decision on discipline?

An April 6 Board meeting was canceled on April 3, possibly due to an alert that a TRO would be filed on Monday, April 6. I understand that some consideration was being given by the Board to holding a hearing on April 21, but Judge Feetterer reportedly indicated that the Board will not meet on April 21. Judge Feetterer is to rule on O’Doherty’s Matter on April 20 at 9:00AM.

When the City cuts off an employee’s pay and threatens his health insurance without ever holding a hearing, it seems to me that it has acted wrongfully. The bigger question is, how can the City move forward at all, before the Wisconsin charges are settled? What will happen if Wisconsin charges against O’Doherty are dismissed or if he is found Not Guilty? Will he have a clean slate here then?

O’Doherty’s next court date in Wisconsin is April 24, and that is for an “adjourned initial appearance.” A very interesting aspect of the Wisconsin charges is that there was no bond required on any of the three charges.