Aldermen want layovers and lawyer

StoryImage( ‘/Images/Story//Auto-img-117571394515741.jpg’, ‘Photo by Stuart R. Wahlin’, ‘Attorney Mario Tarara, who spoke out against RMTD’s expansion a week before, pushed for development of hotels, restaurants and retail around the East State Street corridor.‘);
StoryImage( ‘/Images/Story//Auto-img-1175714005665.jpg’, ‘Photo by Stuart R. Wahlin’, ‘RMTD Board Chairman Gary Marzorati argued claims of a ridership decline over the past 10 years are untrue.‘);

The battle over a new bus station for Rockford spilled over into questioning the city attorney’s impartiality about laying over legislation and a proposal for aldermen to have their own lawyer.

Gary Marzorati, board chairman of the Rockford Mass Transit District (RMTD), stood before the Rockford City Council April 2 during public participation to deny RMTD’s ridership has declined over the last 10 years.

One week earlier, Rockford real estate attorney Mario Tarara urged aldermen to question RMTD’s expansion, which would be in the form of a proposed terminal and transfer center on the 700 block of North Lyford Road.

Terara stated, “I think if we’re gonna consider how to best use the resources of our mass transit district in our city, we should focus those on maintaining and improving our current system rather than expanding the Rockford mass transit system to a new size.”

Terara and Ald. Joe Sosnowski (R-1) both cited a decrease in riders between 1996 and 2005.

“Our last 10 years are 1998 to 2007,” Marzorati argued. “Our ridership in 2006 was up 10 percent. Our ridership in 2007 was up 12 percent.”

Marzorati conceded there had been decreases in the late 1990s and some wavering in the new millennium, but noted slight increases in 2001 and 2003. The RMTD chairman is pushing the East Side Transfer Center as part of a grid system, providing east-siders with an alternative to the downtown terminal.

Although Marzorati says the center would result in more riders, opponents argue the area in question is much better suited for other uses.

A Codes and Regulations Committee report recommends reversal of the Zoning Board of Appeals’ decision suggesting approval.

A “Yes” vote by a simple majority would result in denial of the zoning map amendment and special-use permit.

Aldermen were originally expected to vote March 26 on whether to allow the amendment and special-use permit for the project to move forward. The vote, however, was held out for a week.

When the issue came up again on the April 2 agenda, Sosnowski made a motion to lay over the matter, which was promptly seconded.

The ensuing debate, which involved little or no mention of RMTD, left some aldermen at odds with Mayor Larry Morrissey (I) and Legal Director Patrick Hayes.

Morrissey and Hayes concurred the matter could not be laid over again because it had been up for passage two weeks earlier and held out once already.

Some aldermen feel that simply isn’t the way business has always been done in City Hall.

Ald. Pat Curran (R-2) challenged Hayes’ interpretation of the ordinance, and argued that any two aldermen should be able to lay over the committee report.

Hayes fired back, implying the rule was rewritten to Curran’s specifications.

“The discussions you and I specifically had was, two weeks would be enough,” Hayes responded. “The rule was crafted off of your direction…Week two would be the only week that the current rule would be in effect.”

March 26, Ald. Lenny Jacobson (D-6) initially made a motion to lay over the matter, but instead decided to go along with Ald. Nancy Johnson’s (D-8) motion to hold it out.

The distinction seems to indicate aldermen were reserving the right to lay over the issue April 2, putting off the vote for one more week.

Curran suggested the issue was technically not in a position to be voted on March 26 because Johnson, who was serving as committee chairman, held it out in Ald. Doug Mark’s (R-3) absence.

Morrissey explained, “Whether it was held out as a matter of courtesy or there was a movement to lay over, the effect would be the same in that it would be the second chance at holding that matter out.”

Now on the third week, Morrissey and Hayes contended a majority vote would be required to lay it over again, not just a second from another alderman.

Although indicating he’d not support a layover, Jacobson urged Hayes to read his rule book, which the legal director did not have with him.

“We’ve never, never in my 20-some years down here – if somebody moves to lay something over and it’s seconded, it’s non-debatable,” Jacobson noted.

Ald. Victory Bell (D-5), who was first elected to the City Council in 1971, preferred not to lay over but joined Jacobson in defending the authority of aldermen to do so without discussion as long as the motion has been seconded.

Aldermen Bell, Dan Conness (D-14), Jacobson and Ann Thompson-Kelly (D-7) cast the only “No” votes, and a lay-over was achieved.

Although Sosnowski stated his intention to lay the matter over was simply to obtain outside legal clarification, Marzorati called it a “stall tactic.”

A week before, Sosnowski told fellow aldermen he’d like to work with RMTD on improving their existing system.

Responding to the evening’s debate, Ald. Jeff Holt (D-11) introduced a resolution to seek outside counsel “to provide legal opinions and review of ordinances, and draft certain ordinances for the aldermen of the City of Rockford.”

Holt specified the ideal attorney should have a master’s degree in public administration as well as a juris doctorate. Holt referred his resolution to the Finance and Personnel Committee.

The RMTD matter will be before aldermen again on the April 9 agenda.

from the April 4-10, 2007, issue

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