Naperville smart meter foes criticize arrest of protesters
Feb 06, 2013 (Chicago Tribune - McClatchy-Tribune Information Services via COMTEX) --
Opponents of Naperville's smart meter program lashed out at city officials Tuesday night in the wake of two of their own being arrested.
Critics spent about 40 minutes of the City Council meeting airing their concerns during a public forum that at times turned raucous with shouts of "shameful" and "resign," as at least half a dozen police officers lined the room.
Naperville has installed wireless electric meters known as "smart meters" on 57,000 homes. Officials say the project will make the electric system more reliable and efficient and reduce costs.
However, the Naperville Smart Meter Awareness group, which has a federal lawsuit pending against the city, has expressed concerns over whether the wireless meters will affect their health, security and privacy.
On Jan. 23, installers accompanied by police returned to homes that had repeatedly refused to allow a meter to be installed. Two leaders of Naperville Smart Meter Awareness group were arrested for interfering with the process.
Malia "Kim" Bendis of the 2200 block of Mercer Court was charged with two misdemeanors -- attempted eavesdropping and resisting a peace officer. Jennifer Stahl of the 1400 block of Westglen Drive, received two ordinance violation citations -- interfering with a police officer and preventing access to customer premises.
Amber Schoedel said she was "sickened" by the arrests of her friends.
"Anyone in the audience or anyone watching this at home should be very concerned when the city government starts enforcing city municipal code with police force," she said.
Resident Jerry Schilling called the installation of meters after homeowners refused an "all-out assault on many of the citizens' personal property" and called on the City Council to fire City Manager Doug Krieger and Police Chief Bob Marshall.
"As far as I know we still live in the United States of America and not Communist China," he said.
His comments drew clapping and cheers from the crowd, leading Mayor George Pradel to call for a five-minute recess until it calmed down.
Later, resident Tim Messer, who is a member of the city's Planning and Zoning Commission but stressed he was speaking only for himself, said he generally supports the smart meter project but found the arrests to be an "unnecessary show of force."
"I've been concerned for awhile about the lack of civil discourse related to the smart grid project," he said. "From the smart grid bill of rights to manual meter read charges to lawsuits and now arrests, both sides I feel have often been talking past each other."
City officials did not respond to the comments during the meeting other than Krieger referring the crowd to a letter he recently penned about the project. Afterward, he said he stands by the arrests of Bendis and Stahl.
"We absolutely would have preferred the arrests were not necessary," he said. "We've stated before and will state again we have every right to access and maintain our own equipment."
He also said the city has taken numerous steps to try to alleviate concerns about the project such as testing the meters to make sure radio frequencies meet Federal Communications Commission guidelines, providing a non-wireless alternative meter and hiring a contractor to perform a cyber security audit.
"Those steps were absolutely a result of the public process that went on," he said. "We certainly haven't pleased 100 percent of residents and we rarely do, however the vast vast majority I believe is very satisfied with the steps we've taken."
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