AFSCME union members finally get response from mayor

StoryImage( ‘/Images/Story//Auto-img-115644012330275.jpg’, ‘Photo by Jason Carson Wilson’, ‘Aug. 14, about 100 members of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME, AFL-CIO) Local 1058 picketed outside City Hall in attempts to force discussions with Mayor Larry Morrissey regarding the city employees’ insurance contract. The mayor is already at odds with employees of the Rockford Police Department, who have been without a contract for almost a year.’);

Rockford Mayor Larry Morrissey reacted to American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME, AFL-CIO) Local 1058’s Aug. 14 informational picket outside of city hall by saying, “I, frankly, welcomed (it).”

Morrissey said, during his monthly discussion with local media outlets, the protest allowed both Local 1058 and the city to get their message out. He said he even sought input from area taxpayers during an appearance at Eiger Lab. After surveying those in attendance, Morrissey said, he discovered he [and Local 1058] was the only one present with an insurance plan with no deductible and no premium.

“We are simply out of touch as an organization,” he said.

According to Morrissey, the city’s current insurance plan must be restructured. He said he’d been chastised for not looking out for the little guy. But Morrissey said the little guy is not only paying taxes, but he’s paying for his health insurance.

He said the city is working with the union, but any cooperation will only go so far. “The negotiations are moving forward,” Morrissey said. “But we’re going to do everything we can to protect our citizens.”

Other ways of protecting Rockford citizens were among the topics broached as well. Morrissey said the proposed panhandling ordinance has widespread support. He said the legislation would help fulfill his ultimate goal.

“We’re talking about ‘excellence everywhere’ without the mechanism to enforce it,” Morrissey said.

Unlike the current ordinance, which has been deemed unconstitutional, the proposed ordinance should hold up better in court, Morrissey said, adding new attitudes must accompany the new ordinance. “It’s a cultural shift we have to take in this community,” and the city must begin practicing “tough love,” he said.

He pointed out nearly 60 percent of those who mete out the tough love—Rockford police officers—don’t live within the Rockford city limits. Morrissey surmised the very problems they’ve asked to deal with have driven them to surrounding communities.

But he said better police training will help Rockford become more livable.

According to Morrissey, the police department is wholeheartedly embracing the community policing model. He said the training encourages police officers to get to know the residents better. It allows them to become more proactive, Morrissey said.

“We’re trying to change a culture in law enforcement to focus on the little things,” he said.

More efficient ways to gather and share information was also discussed. He noted the city’s Neighborhood Services department hasn’t received adequate technology investment in the past. Morrissey said that and its structure will change.

According to Morrissey, a proposed metro code enforcement department is being considered. It would allow City of Rockford and Winnebago County building inspectors to join forces.

“We should be the eyes and ears for each other,” Morrissey said.

From the Aug. 23-29, 2006, issue

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