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Time to end St. Charles scofflaw’s song and dance

Jeff Ward

Jeff Ward

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Updated: January 23, 2012 3:59AM

A few weeks ago we discussed the terrifying prospect of Elgin-area HELPS Ministry founder Angelo Valdes and inveterate St. Charles do-it-yourselfer Cliff McIlvaine joining forces to form the kind of antigovernment supergroup that might make the most ardent tea partier weep with envy.

If you recall, God has a nasty habit of telling Valdes when he should ignore county zoning laws, while McIlvaine continues to work on the same St. Charles home improvement project he started back in 1975.

“By me doing most of this stuff myself over the years, it’s taken awhile,” McIlvaine has told reporters, “You can’t just snap your fingers and make it happen overnight.”

It would appear that Mr. McIlvaine’s definition of “overnight” differs somewhat from what the rest of ours is.

But while Valdes seems to understand when continuing to tempt the fates won’t work out well, McIlvaine lacks any semblance of that self-preservation instinct.

Most St. Charles residents wouldn’t even think of subjecting their neighbors to a 36-year construction project. Most would thank their lucky stars they managed to slip under the municipal radar for more than three decades. Most homeowners would be thrilled that, after piling up a record number of building code violations, a lenient judge gave them yet another year to wrap it up.

But not our Mr. McIlvaine. He doesn’t know the meaning of the phrase “cut your losses.”

After the judge settled the home addition issue, as part of the inspection process, the city of St. Charles discovered that he’d disconnected his home from the drinking water grid. Instead, McIlvaine’s been using a homemade roof tarp and underground cistern rain collection system for his water supply.

But as one might expect, because birds poop on your roof, one of the four water tests conducted by St. Charles came back with coliform, which leads to E. coli, which can lead to death.

When I proposed it might be better for all involved if they allowed natural selection to take its course, Mayor Don DeWitte laughed and replied, “In St. Charles, it is against the law to have your own water supply.”

So much for the simple solution.

Despite threatening to go to jail before he’d ever consider capitulation, in a fleeting moment of sanity, McIlvaine signed a consent decree pledging to neither drink nor bathe in his cistern-collected water. But just a few days later, claiming he signed the agreement “under extreme pressure,” he said he’s going back to court to overturn it.

Not only that, but DeWitte told me our neighbor from hell just decided not to cut his parkway grass because “it’s city property.” So now he’s racking up code violations for that.

“We need to aggressively enforce building ordinances. All this new stuff is just more chatter,” DeWitte said, “The problem has been the proverbial project that never gets finished. Two previous administrations chose not to enforce the building permit code. Due to complaints from neighbors who have watched this debacle evolve, we finally said enough is enough.”

Exactly. Because whether it’s on the job, at the gym, in school or even in our own families, we’ve all run into that one prima donna who demands all of the attention all the time. And because it’s impossible to get it through positive means, they turn to negative behavior.

You can’t work with them either, because they know that once the problem is solved, they’ll no longer be the center of attention.

The only tactic that works with immature and selfish people like Cliff McIlvaine is the swift and sure application of very specific consequences. So my theory is this: Let’s call his bluff and put him in jail. You’ll be amazed at how quickly our self-prescribed “folk hero” changes his tune.

“He has every right to defend what he believes to be his civil rights, but he has no right to detract from his neighbors’ property,” DeWitte added, “The city has made the decision to enforce the laws we all must abide by.”

Cliff McIlvaine is no folk hero. He’s just an irritating man whose 15 minutes of fame is about up.

Jeff Ward can be reached at

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