Q. I reside in unincorporated St. Clair County, where residents recently rejected an electricity aggregation proposal even though most stood to save at least $100 per year. Is there some underlying reason why people would reject it? -- John Dreas, of Caseyville
A. Seemed like a no-brainer to me -- so much so that after voting for Belleville's own measure, half of me is still wondering whether it is too good to be true.
Talk about your win-win-win situations: First, Belleville is getting several power suppliers to bid against each other. Second, you've got the purchasing power of thousands of customers. Third, you initially can opt out at no cost. Fourth, if Ameren's prices slip below a new supplier, that new supplier must match Ameren or else Ameren will resume its role as the supplier.
How could you lose? Or what am I missing?
Of course, I have to tread a little lightly here. As Belleville Mayor Mark Eckert reminded me, the News-Democrat's own editorial board urged me to defeat it when Belleville first voted on it last spring.
"The days of just trust-us should be over," said our March 17 editorial, which was headlined "Zapped by our leaders." "We don't see why ... residents should support the referendum and replace their current free choice with some kind of group-think system."
So why the negativity? Eckert and Jerod McMorris, of Good Energy, the energy management company that consults with governments, offer two major reasons: ignorance and distrust of government.
The two men don't mean to insult anyone. In this case ignorance is simply not knowing, much as I'm ignorant about the intricacies of particle physics. Faced with an unknown, county voters stuck with what they knew, defeating the proposal 52-48 percent.
"Since they didn't know what it was, they simply voted no," McMorris said.
And, if you're not familiar with something that will affect your pocketbook, you, as we were, may be wary of government stepping in.
"I think that was the whole issue when we tried it the first time," said Eckert of the city's initial measure that was defeated 58-42 percent. " 'Government's too big.' 'Government shouldn't be involved.' But we're not going to get involved. All we want is to give you an opportunity to pool your resources and save some money -- if you want to. And if you want to opt out, opt out."
Eckert said Good Energy helped immensely this fall by meeting with newspapers, attending public hearings, etc. (Good Energy's fee will be passed on to the supplier.) McMorris said education quickly overcame common misconceptions.
For example, some feared relying on government would take away free choice. Well, unless you go to the trouble to investigate alternatives, your only choice now is Ameren. Ameren is a fine company, but don't you compare prices for groceries, clothes and cars?
"You talk about government," Eckert said. "I mean let Ameren just keep hammering you. At least now you have choices."
Once Belleville residents were armed with the facts, Eckert said, they approved it last month, This time, our own Oct. 26 editorial was headlined, "A bright idea for electricity" -- quite an about-face in seven months.
"I was surprised it failed in the county," Eckert said. "What I think happened was they didn't get out and work the unincorporated areas. They just didn't have the facts."
Maybe people like you might help spread the word next time.
Does anyone in our area make and sell fruitcakes? The lady in Edwardsville retired. -- A.J.Z., of Maryville
Sadly, Suzanne Boyle, our foodmeister here, is not aware of anyone who took her place. But that doesn't mean the Grinch stole your Christmas sweet entirely.
I don't know how they compare, but I'm told the Hickory Farms holiday kiosk near Santa at St. Clair Square in Fairview Heights offers the seasonal treat. You also might try the much praised cakes from the Assumption Abbey monks in Ava, Mo. The 2-pound treasures are $31 at www.williams-sonoma.com with free shipping.
For more options, try an Internet search -- or, if you feel ambitious, write or call and I'll send you the recipe that Glen Carbon's Rosalie Kovarik sold for 57 years.
It's not Christmas, but I'm taking a vacation. Hope it's as much fun as Chevy Chase's. See you back here Dec. 18.
Answer to Saturday's trivia: Despite their size difference, a quarter has only one more ridge on its edge than a dime, 119-118, according to the U.S. Mint. (There are 150 on a half dollar, 198 on a dollar and 133 on a Susan Anthony dollar.) Technically called "reeding," they were an important feature when coins were made of precious metals because they helped prevent fraud by people who would shave off small bits of the coin around the rim.
Send your questions to Roger Schlueter, Belleville News-Democrat, 120 S. Illinois St., P.O. Box 427, Belleville, IL 62222-0427 or firstname.lastname@example.org