A community demands action from its leaders

StoryImage( ‘/Images/Story//Auto-img-118598904614118.jpg’, ‘Photo by Stuart R. Wahlin’, ‘A concerned community sent City Hall a message without speaking a word.‘);

“We,” stressed Rockford resident John Weaver, “should be working to try and keep all of our soon-to-be repaved streets from being covered in innocent victims’ blood.”

Fed-up citizens packed City Council chambers July 30 in a unified effort to ask city leaders to take a more active role in combating crime throughout Rockford. The latest push for action at the last two meetings, a result of Rockford’s ninth homicide of the year, expresses outrage over the senseless murder of 47-year old street vendor Isidro Duran. A week later, 17-year-old Alexander Delgado was shot to death just outside of Rockford. Both victims were Hispanic.

The standing-room-only crowd, many of whom were of Latin-American descent, held up signs reflecting their concerns while others addressed the council directly.

Weaver, a frequent speaker at council meetings in recent months, often asks aldermen to participate in grassroots marches in an effort to take back the streets from criminals.

Weaver thanked Rockford Police Chief Chet Epperson and Deputy Chief Michael Booker for recently marching along with citizens. Weaver, however, noted that no one from the City Council had attended. Weaver added if aldermen aren’t a part of the solution, they are part of the problem.

“If you are an active leader in this city, this isn’t about you,” Weaver assured the council. “Rockford’s wards, neighborhoods and people need real leaders, not lip service.

“When an ice cream man is gunned down in an over-killed robbery, something is very wrong, and everyone should be concerned.”

Weaver noted Hispanics comprise a significant portion of Rockford’s population, and that we all want a safer place to live.

“Their concerns are mirrored everywhere in this city,” Weaver argued. “15-20,000 people are asking for your help. Leaders, take care of your people.”

Julio Salgado’s group, Latinos for Progress, met with Mayor Larry Morrissey (I), Chief Epperson and city department heads July 27 to discuss solutions. Local news directors were asked to City Hall July 30 for clarification of the city’s media policy after Latino groups invited members of the press, who were not allowed in, to the July 27 meeting.

Because the meeting with city officials was conducted behind closed doors, Salgado reiterated his concerns publicly at the July 30 City Council meeting. Salgado pressed the need for more Hispanic representation municipally to establish trust.

“We need to be part of this community,” Salgado said, adding out of 300 employees of the Police Department, 10 are of Hispanic descent—only one in the 911 call center. “Speaking Spanish doesn’t make it. They need to understand the culture.

“Work with Latino organizations,” Salgado pleaded. “Work with the business community. Work with residents so we can distribute and implement programs that can prevent crime.”

Ald. Victory Bell (D-5) agreed a more open dialogue with the Latin-American community is essential.

“We are in this thing together,” Bell said, “and we’re not going to make progress until we all sit down and work together.”

Ald. Linda McNeely (D-13) agreed not only the council, but the community, needs to take a more active role in crime prevention. McNeely acknowledged she’d stopped holding neighborhood meetings in her ward because they were poorly attended. In light of recent crime, McNeely said she plans to resume meetings and hopes more citizens will attend.

Salgado suggested more after-school programs, gun buy-backs, neighborhood watch groups, enforcing teen curfews and public forums as components of the solution. Salgado added aldermen had been invited to such forums in the Latin-American community, but none responded.

“We are here, and we are offering our help to you,” Salgado concluded. “We are part of this community. We love it, and we want some improvement. We need a plan of action.”

Morrissey welcomed the input from the Latino community.

“We’re glad that they are here, and we’re very, I think, glad that they’re appropriately outraged by the murder of Mr. Duran,” Morrissey asserted. “They should be outraged, and we should all be outraged, for each and every one of the nine human beings that have been murdered this year throughout our community.”

Morrissey, however, said anger over crime shouldn’t just be directed at City Hall.

“It should be channeled towards the parents that don’t know where their children are at night,” Morrissey proposed. “It should be channeled towards community groups, youth groups, schools, churches, social service organizations, businesses and any organization or individuals that have a vested interest in a healthy neighborhood and a prosperous future here in Rockford.”

To the community at large, Morrissey pleaded: “Please don’t stop with a march at City Hall. We must march together to work towards a healthier neighborhood throughout the city, regardless of race or ethnic background.”

After having met with Latino leaders, Morrissey would like to see a community summit and improved economic development on the southwest side in addition to having Rockford’s Hispanic residents better represented in the city’s hiring practices.

City to start thumping back

In a 10-1 vote, aldermen approved a report recommending adoption of the much-publicized Noise Violation/Vehicle Impoundment Ordinance. The new ordinance will give police the power to impound any vehicle whose sound system is heard from 75 feet away. In addition to impound fees, loud music-loving drivers face increasingly higher fines for subsequent violations.

Ald. Linda McNeely (D-13), who cast the only “no” vote, argued impounding a vehicle punishes its owner—not necessarily the driver.

McNeely said the burden should be on the person breaking the law, not the property owner.

“If a parent allowed a child to drive the car,” McNeely illustrated, “and the child turns the radio up, or CD player, or whatever it is, so that it violates the ordinance…the parent also is fined.”

Ald. Doug Mark (R-3), a father of six, addressed McNeely’s concern from a parent’s perspective.

“It would only take one time,” Mark indicated, eliciting chuckles in the council chambers. “The burden of the entire payment would be on that child…I would certainly hope that it wouldn’t take very many to get whoever owns the car to straighten out whoever’s gonna be driving it.”

Ald. Jeff Holt (D-11) applauded the city’s direction in enforcement of noise violations.

“You have to be able to take it away from them,” Holt said. “Otherwise, it’s not gonna have an impact on affecting the behavior.”

The new ordinance is expected to receive final approval at the Aug. 6 City Council meeting and will start being enforced Sept. 4. Meantime, the city will undertake a campaign to make sure the public is informed of the new law.

Other committee reports approved/center>

Aldermen passed a report recommending the award of $10,564.82 to sole-bidder Kwik Kall Communications, of Rockford, for police squad car radios.

A report recommending low-bidder Rockford-based McDermaid Roofing for City Hall roof replacement was approved in the amount of $129,898.

The council approved a report recommending a $44,100 bid be awarded to Bennett Construction, of Pecatonica, for upgrades to the men’s room of the Central Garage. Bennett was the lowest bidder.

A report for the award of a $71,295.23 bid to the Datalink Corporation, of Downers Grove, was approved for network appliance storage device and support. Datalink was the only bidder. McNeely voted “no.”

Sunset clause now inline with "five means five"

After starting collection of the new 1 percentage point sales tax increase six months early, aldermen gave final approval July 30 to an ordinance amending the tax’s “sunset” date from Dec. 31, 2012, to June 30, 2012. The tax will expire on that date unless voters decide to extend it.


Winnebago County Board member Karen Hoffman (D-11) was re-appointed to the Human Services Community Action Agency (CAA) Bo

ard for a three-year term expiring June 2010.

Chaplain Orville Richardson honored

Sheriff, Police and Fire Chaplain Orville Richardson, who often leads the invocation at City Council meetings, was recognized with a standing ovation for his 13 years of service in Rockford. Richardson plans to move south, but indicated Rockford will be sorely missed.

“You don’t know what you’ve meant to me throughout the years,” said Richardson, who suffered a stroke in May. “Your prayers, your cards and many visits meant so much to me.”

Promising he’ll continue praying for Rockford, Richardson added, “For 13 years, I’ve felt it a great blessing to serve as chaplain for you.”


Aldermen Frank Beach (R-10) and Ann Thompson-Kelly (D-7) did not attend the meeting.

from the Aug 1-7, 2007, issue

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