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Jeff Ward: Symptoms of Municipal Mindset? Our City Council's Chronic Focus on the Trivial

Fiddling while Rome burns. This is why 21-year-olds should be rarely seen and never heard!

I should’ve known! Right after threatening to for their surprising fortitude in reducing our proposed property tax levy, they had to disappoint me.

Ah, well! I supposed some love affairs just aren’t meant to last. At least we’ll always have December. When it comes to the City Council and this columnist, in the grammatically stilted eloquence of Ms. Gaga, “You and me could write a bad romance.”

And the road to this rocky relationship breakup started on Jan. 9 when that municipal body inexplicably decided to humor 21-year-old former aldermanic candidate Zac Ploppert by approving a motion to .

The fact that Geneva underage drinking citations dropped by 30 percent in 2011 failed to daunt our intrepid Mr. Ploppert in any way. No! Like any good Republican politician when faced with contradictory facts, he simply disregarded that data and adjusted reality to fit his hypothesis.

Despite a dearth of evidence supporting his claim, Ploppert unilaterally decided that incidents of underage drinking weren’t declining—they were actually on the rise—it was just that these phantom offenders were the masters of avoiding detection. We all know how circumspect drunken teenagers can be.

To send a message to these stealthy Heineken-guzzling high schoolers, Ploppert asked the City Council to raise the underage drinking fine by 150 bucks so the kids that weren’t getting caught wouldn’t have to pay it.

It makes perfect sense to me!

Folks, this is exactly why 21-year-olds should rarely be seen, never heard, and certainly shouldn’t run for alderman. Those of us who’ve managed to make it past 40 cringe at the thought of the things we came up with at that age.

Then again, when you consider Alderman Craig Maladra, who once again flip-flopped to side with the mayor, said this: “I think the measures we take today are largely effective, but in the end, I think increasing the fine sure as heck can’t hurt,” perhaps Mr. Ploppert would fit right in on that City Council dais.

Craig! You know I love you, but seriously, please consider thinking about what you say before you just blurt it out. If something is, indeed, “largely effective” then why are you wasting our time by continuing to address it?

Instead of saying, “Hey! Nice try kid. We appreciate your input, but your facts don’t fit your theory and your conclusion is sorely lacking. Better luck next time!” you’re only encouraging him. I can only imagine what Ploppert will come up with next—an ordinance prohibiting bald men from getting haircuts?

And the kicker is, Ploppert didn’t even bother to show up at the very meeting this farce was foisted upon us.

I could almost forgive the City Council for this massive mental lapse, but then they had to go ahead and immediately compounded it by re-banning synthetic drugs.

That’s right! The state of Illinois’ new statue outlawing marijuana alternatives wasn’t good enough so they wasted yet more time by prohibiting designer drugs a second time. Of course, this begs the question that, if you ban something twice, like multiplying negative numbers, does it actually make it legal?

In an irony so delicious even I couldn’t have conceived it, as that municipal body was considering the synthetic drug vote, Geneva Police Chief Steve Mexin passed out information on a webinar hosted by the Partnership for a Drug-Free America titled, “Synthetic Drugs—The Race to Keep Up, But Always One Step Behind!”

You have to love a group of aldermen so ready and willing to give you that kind of magnificent material. Don’t ever change, guys!

We’ve already covered the and how our legislators and law enforcement can’t keep up with it. You ban one set of chemical analogs and the manufacturers, using Parkinson’s Disease research, simply come up with even more dangerous formula.

The correct answer would be to legalize pot and end this ridiculous self-defeating cycle.

“But Jeff! Big deal. So they voted on some silly things. If it won’t make any difference in the long run, why worry? What’s the harm?”

I’ll tell you what the harm is, dear reader! The harm is it gives us the illusion that we’re actually doing something about a serious problem, when, in reality, we aren’t doing anything. It’s like an ostrich burying its head in the sand to avoid something distasteful only to have the distasteful entity come around and kick it right in the butt.

It also reminds me of Nero fiddling while Rome burned. With the immediate challenge of , , , and property tax revenue falling for the foreseeable future, our City Council is spending its time on fictional underage drinking, pointless synthetic drug bans and .

I always thought, considering the time they put into the job, that $3,600 aldermanic salary was a bit on the cheap side. But after last week’s council meeting, I’m beginning to think they ought to start paying us.

Mike January 16, 2012 at 02:07 PM
Abra cadabra sis boom ba. Appears another government agency thinking "we must do something" even if it's wrong. Remember that "the truth must contain a certain amount of B _ _ _ S _ _ _ or Fools will not think it wise"! ... St Rascal Good article Jeff. Keep up the good work.
Patrick Sennett January 16, 2012 at 02:47 PM
Let's see what Merriam-Webster has to say about this. DETERRENCE: the act or process of deterring: as... the inhibition of criminal behavior by fear especially of punishment. It is not inevitable that kids drink or do drugs. Some will, some won't, and some may be influenced by the potential of punishment. So what's the beef (besides another gratuitous shot at Republicans)?
robert poznanski January 16, 2012 at 03:27 PM
Most teens are pretty fearless, (can you remember that long ago?) and a "law", banning something just makes it more appealing to those who would question, as most people in that age bracket would, "why is something banned, it must be really cool!" A law . per say, does not stop someone from experimentation, bottom line!! We should not keep trying to prevent people, from being, people!! It can't be done!!
Jeff Ward January 16, 2012 at 05:23 PM
Patrick, How could you miss it? My beef was the current system of $100 for the first offense and sending 'em up to the county for the second ($2,500 fine there) was working just fine. Even Chief Mexin agreed it was working. When incidents drop by 30 percent in one year I'd say the current fine is doing the job Ploppert's in-a-vacuum decision that underage drinking isn't down, it's actually up, but offenders are avoiding detection is ludicrous. What proof does he have to back that up? It's like REPUBLICAN senator Jon Kyl saying "Abortion is 95 percent of what Planned Parenthood does" and when it turns out to be 3 percent, adding, "That wasn't intended to be a factual statement." Meanwhile, while we're wasting our time on something that ain't broke and doesn't need to be fixed, our downtown is disappearing. And so much for your GOP theory of less government! Jeff
Justin Eggar January 17, 2012 at 12:30 AM
Jeff, Raising a fine from $100 to $250 doesn't really have anything to do with "GOP theory of less government". Essentially, whether it's $.50 or $500, it's still the same amount of government. I am simply saying that to point out that your statement wasn't really tuned into the conversation. You've already heard my thoughts on the fine previously (I thought it would be less of a detriment than giving them some community service hours), so I won't beat a dead horse with that. Just had to take you task a bit there :)
Justin Eggar January 17, 2012 at 01:11 AM
On a non-political note, I've been to Ace a few times since it's opened and it's been a great experience each time. I hope business continues to be as good as it was when I was shopping there.
Jeff Ward January 17, 2012 at 01:12 AM
Justin, In the case of Patrick, I tend to refer to our ongoing conversation. Though I wasn't clear about that in the response. I was somewhat ineptly referring to the city council wasting their time as more government. In retrospect it didn't work too well. Jeff
Jeff Ward January 17, 2012 at 01:31 AM
Zac, I'm glad to hear you're gainfully employed. I would advise you to put your energy there and put off the alderman thing for at least a decade. When I wrote "like any good Republican candidate" I was referring to GOP candidates in general and their capacity to create ttheir own reality. You are not a current candidate and thus, I was not assigning you a party affiliation. I figured if I wrote "like all good Republicans," readers would, indeed, read that incorrectly. And Zac, Zac, Zac, though I have spoken before the council at times and I've attended more county board meetings than I care to count, Rick generally discourages me from attending Geneva city council meetings. He's right because you can never separate the opinion columnist from the citizen. Thus, I watch 'em on channel 10 or have Rick fill me in. And Zac My job is to exactly to praise those decisions - the property tax levy decrease column, or to call them out when they waste our time - today's column. That's what an opinion columnist does. I wouldn't come into Ace and ask you for a gallon of milk. I would love to hear you explain your point further, but I'd probably just end up begging for mercy. Despite the contrary evidence, you decided underage drinking in Geneva is on the rise because high schoolers are getting sneakier. Then you decided that a higher fine would deter folks who weren't getting caught to begin with. Though it makes me crazy, I do appreciate the material!
Michael O'Conner January 17, 2012 at 04:54 AM
Ah, Ward at his best - taking potshots at people trying to make a difference. "Rick generally discourages me from attending Geneva city council meetings..." Now if only he'd discourage you from "writing"
Colin C. January 17, 2012 at 01:37 PM
Here we go again, a serious debate about a serious subject devolves into little more than a series of personal attacks. Fact: Alcohol use by teens is implicated in a high percentage of each of the three leading causes of death in that age group. National statistics consistently show that at least half of fatal accidents of all sorts, homicides, and a substancial percent of suicides by teenagers are accompanied by alcohol use. Fact: Science has proven that the teenage brain is more vulnerable to the intoxicating effects of alcohol than an adult brain. The physical maturation of the human brain is not complete until our mid twenties. All of us who have raised teenagers probably know the fear of waiting for your nineteen year old to return home at night from a party where you suspect that there is drinking. (I actually went and pulled my daughter out of one such party; an act unheard of at the time. Patents criticized me, she was humiliated and furious. She is still alive and will be forty in a couple of months). Fact: Increased penalties will not stop kids from drinking. We can't always protect people from their own poor choices. Fact: if you attended the first COW meeting on this you should remember that the point of a higher fine was not primarily intended to stop kids from drinking but rather to better catch the attention of their parents in an attempt to get them to be more proactive in supervision. I hope that might just work.
Paul Bryant January 17, 2012 at 02:12 PM
While, in my opinion, Mr. Ploppert was given a bit of an unnecessary beat-down in this piece, I agree with the main point of the article. Not all issues brought before the city or county government will be big issues requiring many man hours, subcommittees, expert studies, you name it. There will be smaller issues that may need more discussion, additional time to ponder the outcome, or simply tabling the issue for another session. The point I think Mr. Ward is trying to make is that smaller issues, sorry Mr. Ploppert but underage drinking in Geneva is a smaller issue, should not get equal or greater time than bigger issues like disappearing downtown merchants, declining property values, decreasing property tax revenue, etc.
Jeff Ward January 17, 2012 at 02:20 PM
Paul, You're right. When the chief of police says the current underage drinking deterrent are working just fine, considering the challenges before us, that should be the end of the conversation. The other issue I was more subtly addressing was this cultures pathological need to praise anything our children and younger folks do. Not everything deserves applause. Not all citizen activism is good. It's great that Zac chose to get involved, but his theory was so flawed it was absurd. If he really wanted to start the conversation on underage drinking, which actually is in steep decline in Geneva, there are better ways to do it than by wasting the city council's and our time. And like it or not, this is a current Republican tactic. Create a problem that doesn't exist, blame it on the president and offer a solution that's outright inane. Jeff
Bob McQuillan January 17, 2012 at 03:24 PM
Jeff I see both your and Zac sides. Government isn't the cure-all but underage drinking is a problem in Geneva. Just because less kids have been caught doesn't mean underage drinking is down. It just means they aren't being caught. Since your oldest is in middle school, you probably aren't aware of the problems depth. Some middle school parents are, ask Chic Williams. My biggest concern is that parents are now enabling not only their kids but other people's kids. Case in point is the infamous "homecoming" party where kids were drinking inside with the owner's permission. This has been going on for years. I know because I have three kids now aged: 30, 27 & 23. The parent problem has gotten worse, now there are co-ed sleepovers. The Junior Assembly (Christmas Dance) was cancelled this year. Why? Not lack of attendance. The real reason was that some parents held "private parties" so that grinding could be allowed! I'm sure some had drinking approved too. Geneva is just like every small town, kids drink. Is this new penalty the right thing to do? I have no idea but the professionals at Tri-Cities Family Services could tell you. The schools are even starting to sponsor parent seminars on drinking & drug use. Every parent needs to wake up and be a parent, not a BFF. Does a girl or boy getting killed need to happen before people understand the danger? You don't like the penalty, what is your solution? Do nothing?
Mike Curran January 17, 2012 at 03:39 PM
I'd be inclined to accept a 21 year old's take on the underage drinking situation over a couple of 50-somethings with no kids in high school
Bob McQuillan January 17, 2012 at 04:04 PM
Mike Thanks for making me feel old! Our neighborhood is filled with middle school & high school kids. Their parents know what is going on because their kids tell them. You would be shocked at what goes on in the middle school, especially on the bus!
Brian Carroll January 17, 2012 at 05:10 PM
I would not be inclined to accept the opinion of someone who, according to his original article, did not participate in this behavior himself. How would he know what deters someone from doing something he never did. This is how I see this issue as coming about; First, Zac lost his aldermanic campaign. He then decided he will run again in the next race, but wanted to improve his chances by doing “something.” He actually chose wisely on that “something” because no alderman wants to seem soft on the “problem” of underage drinking. Now when he runs for alderman next he will have something to point to and say, “Look! I am capable of completing simple tasks!” The problem is that what he did was 100% irrelevant. Underage drinking happens within homes away from parents eyes. Police have no chance of making any real dent in this issue because the kids are not dumb enough to be doing this in public. It’s up to parents to monitor their children’s behavior and act accordingly. Jeff is correct when he says not all citizen involvement is good.

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