City may slash CeaseFire Rockford funding

Aldermen ultimately voted to lay over consideration of awards of community assistance program funds during the July 10 City Council meeting. But the vote didn’t go smoothly.

CeaseFire Rockford originally applied for $50,000 in community assistance funding from the City of Rockford.

Aldermen Linda McNeely (D-13) and Jeff Holt (D-11) had previously requested a $7,892 award be reduced again. Holt and McNeely suggested cuts to several agencies, including Carpenter’s Place, Promised Land Employment, Janet Wattles, Ethnic Heritage Museum, Rockford Park District and Rockford Housing Authority.

CeaseFire, as a violence prevention organization, was then slated to receive nearly $5,000, according to a community assistance program award summary.

While Carpenter’s Place and Promised Land Employment stand to lose, $8,246 and $12,665, respectively, CeaseFire Rockford, Janet Wattles, Ethnic Heritage Museum, Rockford Park District, Rockford Housing Authority and YMCA will lose $3,000 each.

Those cuts were floated to give Patriots’ Gateway Teen Reach more than $20,500 and Let’s Talk It Out $18,000.

Ald. Frank Beach (R-10) said he was prepared to vote on the funding—if Holt and McNeely’s requests could be voted on separately. Beach said he’d be forced to vote “no” if they weren’t.

According to the city’s request for proposal application, funding is limited to organizations in existence for at least one year. The Citizen Participation Committee made the awards based on four criteria.

That criteria includes the project’s impact on the community, overall management capabilities and strength of organization, project feasibility and cost as well as level of organizational support for the project, the request for proposal states.

The committee rated each of the criteria on a scale of 1 to 25. Organizations could earn a maximum of 100 points. But they could have earned five points for meeting one of the four “priority rating” criteria—meaning a potential for 20 extra points.

Those requirements include that the project resides within a Community Development Focus Area, yield documented crime reduction, assist in creating an educated workforce and “create vibrant neighborhoods.”

CeaseFire Rockford Violence Prevention Coordinator Ralph Hawthorne said the money would have been used to hire two outreach workers to deal with growing Hispanic gang activity in southeast Rockford. La Voz Latina wasn’t awarded the more than $30,000 it requested.

Hawthorne isn’t thrilled about the funding decrease. He said he’s more concerned about how it was done. He shared his frustration with aldermen during the July 10 City Council meeting.

“It’s not so much the money, but the process,” Hawthorne said.

According to Hawthorne, CeaseFire Rockford met all the requirements for community assistance program funding. He asserted McNeely and Holt—particularly singling out McNeely—wanted funds allocated to CeaseFire transferred to other programs.

“I was only attempting to come up with some money for ‘Let’s Talk It Out,’” McNeely said.

McNeely stressed all the other programs had gone through the proper channels to get funding.

There’s nothing wrong with questioning how the money’s being spent, McNeely added.

Hawthorne alleged that, unlike CeaseFire Rockford, those programs didn’t meet funding requirements. Though the organizations may not have met all the requirements, McNeely said “(the community assistance program board’s) criteria can change.”

He noted McNeely has repeatedly said his organization received Winnebago County funding and, therefore, didn’t need as much city money. Hawthorne stressed that was untrue. “Everybody knows we didn’t get any county money,” he said.

Hawthorne added the Winnebago County Board also decreased the organization’s anticipated funding.

County Board Member John Harmon (R-4) was instrumental in the board’s decision. He said the county’s decision to go in another direction prompted officials, in part, to not fund CeaseFire Rockford. According to Harmon, the county wanted to find a way to divert people from the Winnebago County correctional system. “(CeaseFire Rockford) doesn’t do things that lead directly to a lower jail population,” Harmon explained.

Harmon said Hawthorne is “treating them before they come to us.” But he acknowledged educating children now may be the best long-term solution.

He said McNeely is constantly fighting the program, and added “It’s the oddest thing I’ve ever experienced in a long time.”

CeaseFire Rockford, Hawthorne said, benefits McNeely’s ward—the 13th Ward—more than any other ward in the city. He said the area has experienced a 12 percent decrease in crime, according to Rockford Police Chief Chet Epperson. Epperson was unavailable for comment.

McNeely said she’s never received a report about the decrease. She said CeaseFire Rockford’s impact can’t really be pinpointed. She alluded to the level of its effectiveness, noting a recent homicide within CeaseFire Rockford’s service area.

The Boys and Girls Club wasn’t awarded the nearly $21,550 it requested to help finance expansion of their Project Learn and Club Tech programs.

From the July 12-18, 2006, issue

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