Editorial: Endorsements: ‘Yes’ on city sales tax and ‘No’ on incumbent County Board

This paper usually doesn’t make endorsements in primary elections; however, considering some recent local government actions, topical endorsements ring out for attention at this crucial time.

Vote “Yes” on the Rockford sales tax

Why? Because if it fails, home rule may push us over, and it’s one of the last votes you’ll get on a city referendum.

If the sales tax passes, a huge goal of Empower Rockford is granted—money. Rockton voters must consider this as well. The big dragon—almost limitless power to impose any kind of fee, tax or regulation without a referendum vote—goes “Puff,” no magic, no steam when the power of the purse is granted. We’ve all seen how much money the jail sales tax has brought in and so has the city. The sales tax is a better deal than home rule. Rockton, are you listening?

Restraints are even built into the sales tax proposal by the very wording of the referendum: “Shall the City of Rockford, Illinois impose a 1% Non-Home Rule Municipal Retailer’s Occupation Tax, Service Occupation Tax and Use Tax, for infrastructure costs and property tax relief?”

Vote “Yes” for the “Non-Home Rule.”

Vote “Yes” for the “infrastructure costs.” We need the road work on Harrison Avenue, 11th Street, West State Street, and North and South Main streets, or those neighborhoods may be lost forever. We also need sidewalk work in all of those areas (and East State Street as well), so we can walk to our neighborhood stores without burning up that expensive gasoline, without breaking our necks on broken sidewalks and without walking in traffic because the sidewalks don’t exist. In all parts of our city, we must expand on Ruth Miller’s achievement in orchestrating our win in the 2005 America in Bloom contest. Our main thoroughfares should look great, complete with landscaping and gateways when entering our city from the east, west, north and south—especially from the airport—this makes a huge impression on visitors and reinforces existing progress, tourism, investment and pride.

Pride in our Forest City brought us the vehicle sticker to reforest the city after the Dutch Elm disease. That pride was abused by the continued use of that revenue beyond its original purpose. The sales tax will remove that sticker from our windshield and from our trust in our city government to do just what it says it will do with revenue.

Vote “Yes” for property tax relief.

Make the city stick to its promise of a 20 percent reduction in that burden! Every time an alderman is sighted, all property owners must keep repeating: “Are the bonds paid off? Where’s my 20 percent reduction?”

Then say to every County Board member you meet, “Why do my assessments keep going up?”

There’s the shell game. The city lowers its rate, and the county keeps raising the assessment level. Eventually, we are right back to where we started, if not paying a higher property tax. Watch them, and make them lower the assessments! Mayor Larry Morrissey should be using his bully pulpit to guarantee the 20 percent reduction, without a county sneak attack.

While you’re driving that point home, ask every County Board member: “Is Rockford part of Winnebago County? Why aren’t you giving a good portion of those extra millions from the jail-sales tax to the city for ‘Public Safety?’ Our city police need more cars and officers. We want our beat cops back and more bike cops. We want to expand our community policing department. It works. Sgt. Mike Booker needs manpower! He works. Why aren’t County Board members working for the City of Rockford, which is the largest municipality in the county. Where’s our share of the jail tax?”

If we can hold Winnebago County accountable, the sales tax is a better deal than home rule. Home rule is the rule by the few. The sales tax goes beyond taxing just the property owners and brings in revenue from everyone who visits our town and uses our infrastructure and services. This new sales tax will not apply to groceries, any titled vehicles or boats, or any prescription or non-prescription drugs.

For the retailers who are understandably leery of this extra 1 percent, relax. As soon as this passes, Loves Park, Machesney Park, Roscoe, Rockton and other surrounding communities will ask for their 1 percent, too, leveling the competitive field. We need this money to bring our retailers more customers. If our streets, neighborhoods and riverfront improve and bloom, that flowering will bring back old residents and bring in new ones. Volume will increase. Every businessperson knows capital improvements must be kept up, or business withers into disrepair and the out-of-date.

By this sales tax investment, let’s truly empower Rockford, without home rule. With home rule, a 1 percent increase will look like the proverbial chump change, and we’ll be the chumps.

Again, home rule is the rule by the few—the few that have always ruled this town. The sales tax is more democratic and is a better deal.

Don’t be chumped by the few that are running all those expensive ads against the sales tax. Why are they spending all that money? Certainly not for your good. Their propaganda is in their own special monied interests that makes fools out of us and our government every day.

Vote for the sales tax. Get Mayor Morrissey completely away from home rule, and let’s see what he can do with a real budget, the fairest budget, for all. Home rule divided us. The sales tax can unite us.

How truly excellent this city could be if all our citizens could rise to our highest and fairest potential character. Morrissey was elected on that dream. We all have to help him keep on track and in the mainstream. Give him some good airtime to achieve his broadcast, while insisting on being on solid ground in the interdependent network of this city. Give him and all of us that footing and loft, and watch every step of sales tax spending.

Let’s hold him to and help him take the A.C.T.I.O.N he delineated in his fine State of the City speech: Accountability, Customer focused, Team driven, Innovative, Open and Never give up!

Talk is cheap, but you get what you pay for—say the clichés—so quit wishing, and take monetary action yourself for a better Rockford. Vote “Yes” on the sales tax.

Winnebago County Board has rot

Rotten, rotten, rotten have been many of the recent actions of the Winnebago County Board. The decay of representative government has never been more apparent under the leadership of Winnebago County Board Chairman Scott Christiansen and soiled by the undue influence of State Sen. Dave Syverson (R-34), who is way outside his woods of proper influence.

Any County Board member or county employee who can tell the truth without going into convulsions will tell you Syverson’s reach is too strong into the inner grain of the County Board.

Separation of powers demands the distance of the city from the county and the county from the state. Revenue sharing and cooperation achieves, but centralized power destroys and breeds corruption. Corruption abhors checks and balances and loves checks and cash, or a good deal on some real estate or a big fat insurance policy, or a nice vacation or some fancy legal work.

Before the Board Republicans and the local party collapses from these lovey-dovey termites, U.S. Rep. Don Manzullo (R-16) and Winnebago County Republican Central Committee Chairman Jan Klaas need to “free” their party’s encumbered incumbents on the County Board.

How? Tell them to vote for the interests and the input of all their constituents, rather than vote the way Syverson tells Christiansen they should vote for a special few. Party unity under the absolute dictate of “go along to get along with the leader” can lead to political suicide, as the national Republican Party is discovering. Ah, “all politics is local,” as Tip O’Neill said.

Republican Primary, District 14

The solution to good ol’ boy syndrome and Christiansen/Syverson attempted dictatorship stands in the independence of Frank Ga

mbino, running against incumbent Tim Simms for the District 14 seat.

Christiansen had decided he would appoint Gambino to the vacancy in District 14, created by John Sweeny’s acceptance of a patronage job as county facilities coordinator. That way, Simms would be unopposed and Gambino would not have to run. Christiansen announced his decision. One problem. He had not asked Gambino if this was OK.

Gambino said he didn’t want to be tainted by selection rather than election. In other words, Gambino wants to earn the office and owe no one. Gene Quinn accepted Sweeny’s post.

Good for Frank Gambino, and congratulations to him for being his own man! That’s rare in politics, and displays the potential for leadership. Impressive.

Tim Simms stands as a long-time politico, and ran for mayor against Charles Box. This paper endorsed him. However, with his recent votes on the new jail, alternative programs and sprawl issues, this paper endorses his opponent. Although he is knowledgeable and seasoned, Simms represents politics as usual, and his power struggles on the Board point to the need for a change.

Vote for Gambino for a fresh approach that has already been proven by his actions. Hopefully, even though he is a Realtor, he will work to contain sprawl and build up in Rockford, rather than out. District 14 is central to Rockford and needs the county commitment which seems to only run in a ring around Rockford.

Republican Primary, District 4

Incumbent Chris K. Johnson is opposed by Dave Fiduccia. Johnson motors along as part Christiansen-Owens-Olson truck, committed to running an ethanol plant down the throats of the folks on Meridian Road. As avidly as this paper has supported ethanol and other renewable energy for more than three years, we recognize the primacy of individual property rights and concerns about the environment.

This plant needs to be in Winnebago County to supply the Rockford area. Yet, Johnson’s arrogance, co-driving of the hit-and-run on regular zoning procedures and the attempt to cut off legal objections, show his complete lack of respect for the democratic process. His support of RVC President Chip Chapdelaine, who was fired, also shows his judgment. He needs to go.

Dave Fiduccia enjoys the highest recommendation from County Board Member Pete MacKay (R-5) (See “Letters to the Editor”). MacKay is so distraught with his fellow Republican Board members’ values and actions, he is recommending they all be replaced. Fiduccia offers a needed fresh approach. Vote for Fiduccia; he says he’ll listen and represent accordingly.

Republican Primary, District 3

Incumbent Gary Jury is opposed by Christopher A. Hodges. Jury marches as another member of the old guard. He’s very mercurial. Personal dislikes certainly exist, but when they become almost irrational, judgment must be questioned. Jury’s too stressed out; perhaps he see what a mess the entire Board represents right now.

Hodges was the village engineer of Roscoe and was quite competent. He quit the job because of potential conflict of interest with his role as a developer. Then, he wanted the job back, but the village refused. One of his properties is involved in an eminent domain action by the Hononegah School District, so he knows what that feels like. Because of his development ambitions, reservations are in order. However, his competence recommends him. Therefore, we endorse him with reservations.

Democratic Primary, District 6

This one’s simple. Incumbent Pearl Hawks has done a great job of representing her district. She’s well informed about zoning issues, and doesn’t want her district to be the dumping ground for the county’s controversial or potentially hazardous projects. She has courage.

While challenger Gretchen Hudson has admirably stepped forward to serve the public, Hawks’ experience and true representation presents anything but a need for a change—we need more like her. Vote for Hawks.

Democratic Primary, District 7

Incumbent Angie J. Goral is challenged by Reggie A. Taylor. Goral and her late husband, Dick, have served the public admirably also. She was appointed to Dick’s City Council seat upon his death, but lost the seat. Her County Board victory was welcomed by many west-siders, whom she has represented well. However, she is an advocate of home rule. Overly powerful and centralized control does not sit well here.

Many recommend Taylor, saying he is more reliable on zoning issues. His affection for saving farmland recommends him, as does his education in planning. If we need one thing right now, it’s a plan for limiting growth in Winnebago County and filling in the holes that have developed. With great affection for Goral, vote for Taylor.

Democratic Primary, District 11

Here’s another tough one—a four-person race. Incumbent Karen Hoffman was appointed to fill the seat of Jim Hughes, who answered a Christiansen appointment. She has the support of the party regulars, party Board members and precinct committeemen. She’s done a good job.

While challengers Carole Anne Pysher and David Hightower have also admirably stepped forward to serve the public, they are largely unknown.

However, Karen Elyea, owner of Minglewood, operates as a bit of a renegade. She did a fine job of organizing the Block 5 party a few years back, and has worked on several River District Association committees. She’s acts as a real advocate for all urban areas. We need a real River District advocate on the Board, and her district includes the Broadway area. That area needs quite a bit of work. Since her business is on Broadway and 9th, she’s in touch. She’s a very smart person with a good pulse on what youth in the area want. Because of her practical and business experience, vote for Elyea.

Democratic Primary, District 12

Here’s another simple one. Incumbent George Anne Duckett has done a fine job representing her constituents. She really used to speak out as editor and publisher of The Vital Force newspaper. However, she is also State Rep. Chuck Jefferson’s right-hand person. This interface and clout come in handy for her constituents. While we wish challenger Gary G.C. Crowley good luck, he’s just up against too good of a woman. Vote for Duckett.

Democratic Primary, County Clerk

Incumbent Davie Johnson is retiring. A member of his staff, Margie M. Mullins, is opposed by Jeff Polsean.

Mullins knows the office inside out. That may be the problem; she’s part of the problem, not the solution. She was involved in releasing a large portion of local judges Social Security numbers by accident. She has worked for the Republican machine that has run that office and survived.

However, Polsean supervises 19 public aid offices in northern Illinois. He knows management on a large scale, and is very detail-oriented. He has some new ideas to protect our vital records, and any fresh approach deserves a chance, considering the old one. Besides, Polsean has made a commitment to stay in the office and not use it as a political stepping stone. He even told this paper he’d take a very good look at the electronic voting system in the county and even consider the paper ballot. Vote for Polsean!

From the March 15-21, 2006, issue

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