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2 Naperville smart meter activists arrested during installation

Kim Bendis president Naperville Smart Meter Awareness organizatiaddresses supporters rally outside Naperville Municipal Center Sunday April 15 2012. | Jeff

Kim Bendis, president of the Naperville Smart Meter Awareness organization, addresses supporters at a rally outside the Naperville Municipal Center on Sunday, April 15, 2012. | Jeff Cagle~For Sun-Times Media

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Updated: February 26, 2013 6:24AM

Two Naperville residents who have long opposed the city’s Smart Grid Initiative clashed with police Wednesday afternoon as municipal employees attempted to install an electric smart meter at one of their homes.

Malia K. “Kim” Bendis, president of the grass roots Naperville Smart Meter Awareness group, and board member Jennifer A. Stahl face trial in DuPage County Circuit Court in Wheaton on misdemeanor charges. Bendis was cited for attempted eavesdropping and resisting a peace officer, and Stahl for interfering with police and “preventing access to customer’s premises,” according to a city of Naperville community relations officer.

Bendis and Stahl, both 40, are free on bonds of $150 and $120, respectively. Their arraignment dates were pending as of Thursday.

Naperville police records indicated both were charged about 1:42 p.m. on or near the grounds of Stahl’s house on the 1400 block of Westglen Drive. That address is southwest of 75th Street and Modaff Road, in the Villages of West Glen neighborhood in the central part of the city.

Stahl allegedly resisted installation of a smart meter at her home. Bendis reputedly filmed what happened after city workers and police arrived at the scene.

A video that accompanied an e-mail sent by the Naperville Smart Meter Awareness group depicts an installation in progress, despite a locked gate outside the house.

Smart meters to date have been installed at nearly 99 percent of the almost 60,000 homes in Naperville.

According to City Council member Robert Fieseler, 147 residents have declined to select either the wireless or nonwireless version of the meter. Officials have said those homeowners have the option of supplying their own electricity.

Smart meter opponents contend the devices are an invasion of privacy and can lead to health problems for homeowners and their families.

City Manager Doug Krieger confirmed municipal employees began installing smart meters Wednesday morning “for the small number of homeowners who did not have decks” or similar outdoor amenities.

Krieger said homeowners had been given the option of signing up to receive the nonwireless meters instead of the standard meters. Those residents will be charged a fee for manual reading, which is unnecessary with standard smart meters.

“If we did not hear from you, we just installed the standard meter,” Krieger said. “Only if you wanted the nonwireless did you have to contact the city.”

Krieger said it was his understanding Stahl and Bendis “said they did not want a standard smart meter and did not sign up for the nonwireless meter, either, for those homes, because we don’t have an application for a nonwireless on file.”

“The meters themselves are city property, and we absolutely have the right to install, maintain, or repair our own property,” Krieger said.

Bendis did not return a telephone message left Wednesday evening at her home that sought comment on the day’s events.

In a statement, Naperville Smart Meter Awareness said it was “saddened and outraged by the events that took place in Naperville ...”

“The city has demonstrated they are willing to go to any means to install these meters, including arresting moms who are exercising their right to protect their property,” the statement said.

Doug Ibendahl, attorney for the Naperville Smart Meter Awareness group, learned of the arrests of Bendis and Stahl from The Sun. Ibendahl said he found the situation “outrageous,” and something he said should serve as a warning to Naperville residents.

“It’s another wake-up call for the people of Naperville to what lengths this city will go,” he said.

Ibendahl added the group’s federal lawsuit against the city is still in its “discovery” phase. He expressed confidence his clients will ultimately prevail.

“This is a slam-dunk case,” Ibendahl said of the suit filed over concerns for safety and privacy.

Ibendahl also scoffed at the notion the group was out of options in its bid to have smart meters removed.

“Not at all,” he said, citing an area in California he said removed them under pressure from its citizens. “California had theirs installed for four years before they had to take them out.”

Hank Beckman and Tim West contributed to this report.

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