Council, public rally behind their chief

StoryImage( ‘/Images/Story//Auto-img-118962295032234.jpg’, ‘Photo by Stuart R. Wahlin’, ‘Citizens made sure Epperson knew they were behind him: “We support the Rockford Police officers. We do not support their union’s actions.”‘);

Vacant seats were a much-sought-after commodity in Rockford City Council chambers Sept. 10 as residents made a strong show of support for Police Chief Chet Epperson, who is on the outs with the Rockford Police Benevolent and Protective Association. Members of the community held signs reflecting approval of the way Epperson gets things done.

Sept. 7, Epperson and Deputy Chief Mike Booker were cut loose by the union when its board voted to rescind their memberships in the wake of ongoing disagreements about department policy, which have culminated in two lawsuits—one by the union, the other by a pair of officers. The union also plans to take a symbolic vote of no confidence in Epperson Sept. 14.

The chief said he was humbled by the citizens’ show of support, and promised a vote of no confidence would not deter his approach.

“All of us, including myself and Rockford police officers, we serve our citizens,” Epperson stated. “The best gauge that we are reducing crime and lessening the fear of crime is from the citizen support.”

Despite the growing rift between him and the union, Epperson praised what he called an “overwhelming majority” of officers who do an outstanding job every day.

Communities who’ve seen a crime reduction in their neighborhoods were not the only ones to make a stand for Epperson. Deputy chiefs Greg Lindmark, Theo Glover and Lori Sweeney tendered their resignations to the Police Benevolent and Protective Association, and the city council made no secret of backing Epperson.

Mayor Larry Morrissey (I) noted, the numbers speak for themselves.

“Through Sept. 1 of this year, we’ve had 29 fewer rapes, 17 fewer robberies, 62 fewer assaults with handguns, compared to one year ago. Forty-three fewer other aggravated assaults, 325 fewer burglaries, 1,508 fewer thefts, 46 fewer stolen vehicles,” Morrissey reported. “We’ve been able to do that while cutting nearly a million dollars in overtime expenditures.”

After applause from the gallery subsided, Morrissey added sick-time utilization in the police department has been reduced by about 40 percent since 2005. Despite union claims of low morale in the Police Department, Epperson believes the decline in absenteeism indicates otherwise.

Epperson, who was named Rockford’s new chief of police in April 2006, has admittedly shaken things up in the department since taking the reins last year. While he and Morrissey acknowledged the changes have not been easy for some, the mayor believes Epperson’s strategies are taking the city in the right direction.

Ald. Ann Thompson-Kelly (D-7) agrees the new way of policing is working, which she feels has brought the community into the process.

“We are now getting more residents to step forward to be cooperative. Police departments don’t solve crimes. The community helps solve those crimes,” Thompson-Kelly asserted. “The chief of police has my support 210 percent, with the achievements and the accomplishments that he’s made in our community.”

Ald. Victory Bell (D-5) praised Epperson’s accessibility to both city leaders and residents.

“Change always causes friction,” Bell said of Epperson’s apparent loss of favor in the union, assuring the chief Rockford is behind him. “When things get tough, leaders lead.”

Off the record, both fire and police union members claim their votes put Morrissey over the top in the last election, and they feel betrayed by the “my way or the highway” relations of his administration and the negotiating style and stance with their organizations. “They won’t take criticism,” said one officer. “They retaliate.”

The police union has been working without a contract with the city for nearly two years.

Committee reports

Aldermen approved a committee report recommending Missman-Stanley and Associates be awarded an engineering agreement for the Harmon Park Drainage Project for an amount not to exceed $306,183.41. Missman-Stanley will perform a topographic survey, as well as engineering and hydraulic and hydrologic analyses. Ald. Nancy Johnson (D-8) thanked the mayor and staff for expediting the project.

The city council passed a report recommending low-bidder Christiansen Roofing, owned by Winnebago County Board Chairman Scott Christiansen (R), be awarded a $13,606 contract for roof repairs to the Coronado Theatre.

A finance and Personnel Committee report recommending KMK Media be awarded a contract for marketing of the “Miracle Mile” in the State and Alpine Tax Increment Financing (TIF) district was approved. Estimated cost of the contract is $20,000.

A report recommending Strand Associates, Inc. be awarded a task order contract in the amount of $584,240 for engineering services related to the Water Quality Project received approval. Another engineering task order related to the project, in the amount of $140,000, was awarded to MWH Americas, Inc.


Aldermen adopted an ordinance recommending approval of a redevelopment agreement with Kaney Aviation Properties, LLC. Kaney plans to renovate the Whitehouse Shopping Center on North Alpine Road. Per the agreement, Kaney would receive $200,000 in TIF funds. The proposal will be up for a final vote Sept. 17.

The council gave final approval to an honorary name change for the Winnebago Street viaduct, which will now be called the Gregory D. Calleia Viaduct, after the former alderman.

Public participation

Kim Wheeler, executive director of the River District Association, spoke in support of Mayor Morrissey’s proposed Regional Center for Design and Planning. The center is to be a facility where the public can view development plans and information for various projects.

“It gives the residents an opportunity to provide input and give feedback,” Wheeler explained, calling the center an “incubator” for planned growth. “It becomes a place where many organizations and governmental agencies can work together to create regional planning that is beneficial to all.”

The proposed location is on the first floor of the Pioneer parking deck, where the center would share space with a retail entity.

Following Gov. Rod Blagojevich’s (D) decision to cut $250,000 in funding from Rockford CeaseFire from the state’s budget, Rockford resident John Weaver urged city leaders to find a way to keep the organization afloat.

“This city always seems to find a way to get funds to fix problems,” Weaver pointed out. “CeaseFire has needs. It is out of funds. There is no staff to conduct a rapid response into any neighborhood that has had gunfire erupt.”

Meantime, Weaver asked for others to join him in keeping the program alive. To volunteer, call John Weaver at 1-815-968-2205.

Mourning "Mayor Ben"

The council observed a moment of silence in honor of former Rockford Mayor Ben Schleicher, who passed away at the age of 90 Sept. 7. Schleicher held the office 16 years and was Rockford’s longest-serving mayor.


Mayor Morrissey proclaimed Sept. 15-Oct. 15 Hispanic Heritage Month in Rockford.

The month of September was proclaimed Leukemia, Lymphoma and Myeloma Awareness Month in Rockford.

In honor of visitors from Rockford’s Italian sister city, the week of Sept. 10 was proclaimed Farentino Week in the city.


Aldermen Dan Conness (D-4) and Lenny Jacobson (D-6) were not present.

from the Sept. 12 – 18, 2007, issue

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