Epperson supporters respond to union vote

StoryImage( ‘/Images/Story//Auto-img-119022456127663.jpg’, ‘Photo by Stuart R. Wahlin’, ‘The Orchid, Third, Union, College Neighborhood Association supports Chief Epperson.‘);

Three nights after the Police Benevolent & Protective Association (PB&PA) Unit 6 made a vote of “no confidence” in Police Chief Chet Epperson, citizen support for the top cop was again present at the Sept. 17 Rockford City Council meeting.

A week prior, citizens packed council chambers to rally behind Epperson and Deputy Chief Mike Booker, while protesting the union board’s decision to revoke the two men’s PB&PA memberships.

Members of the community, for the second week in a row, voiced their votes of absolute confidence. One sign held in the air read: “Chet & Mike – Our Batman & Robin.”

Signs weren’t the only way civilians showed their unwavering endorsement of the embattled chief. A number of backers addressed the council directly during public participation.

Alisia Harris, a west side resident, said she feels much safer and has noticed a significant reduction of illegal activity in her neighborhood since Epperson took over in April 2006. Harris called the chief an asset to law enforcement.

“He is visible in the community and is a man of his word,” Harris recalled of her experience with Epperson. “He’s proven to respond promptly to the concerns of the people in this community.”

Glenn Throndsen, president of the West End Do’ers neighborhood association, has lived on the west side for 52 years. Throndsen said when he moved into the neighborhood, it was one of the best areas of the city, one which has since declined.

Not all the transformations his neighborhood’s seen have been bad, Throndsen pointed out.

“Since Mayor [Larry] Morrissey [I] and his administration have taken over, I have seen many changes to the west side, and they are all good,” Throndsen asserted, calling Epperson’s Weed & Seed program one of the best things to ever happen to the city. “Crime is down, and quality of living is coming up.”

Orchid, Third, Union, College Neighborhood Association President Becky Lichty referenced a promise Epperson made when he was sworn into office: “That he would make our city safe enough to sit on our front porch and drink lemonade.”

The neighborhood organization distributed packets of lemonade mix throughout council chambers to let it be known they still believe in their chief of police.

“With all of those lemons you were dealt with last week, you can make a heck of a lot of lemonade,” Lichty told Epperson, “and you can sit on your front porch with your family, and drink that lemonade, feeling proud that your promise has been fulfilled.”

Responding to the outpouring, Epperson noted his entire department can take pride in knowing the public approves of their performance. The chief also indicated mounting tension with the union will not compromise that level of service.

“The [no-confidence] vote was taken,” Epperson acknowledged. “The number was there. I’m open to, if there’s a better approach, if there’s more inclusion, some better communication.”

More talks are scheduled with union leaders, but Epperson promised the veracity of the Police Department will not be compromised.

For the second week in a row, devoutly pro-union Ald. Lenny Jacobson (D-6) was not present.

McNeely suspicious of motives for removing Jackson

Ald. Linda McNeely (D-13) spoke in support of Jefferson High School Principal Dr. Kenneth Jackson, who was placed on administrative leave Sept. 11 pending an investigation into incidents of grade-changing during the last school year.

“Yes, there should be an investigation,” McNeely responded. “Let the investigation not stop with Dr. Jackson, but start the investigation with all the other parties involved. If Dr. Jackson is to be tarred and feathered, then bring enough tar and feathers for all.”

In a move that outraged teachers, Jackson ordered failing grades be changed to Ds if teachers had neglected to warn parents their child was failing. Then-superintendent Dr. Dennis Thompson supported Jackson’s decision.

After Thompson left his post, however, acting Superintendent Linda Hernandez decided the matter needed another look and placed Jackson on leave. Some students at Jefferson became unruly during what was supposed to have been a peaceful protest in support of their beloved principal. The mayhem that ensued called the school district’s handling of the event into question.

Many others in the community believe Jackson’s positive contributions to Jefferson qualify him to be considered for Thompson’s vacated superintendent spot­—a job Hernandez certainly doesn’t want to give up.

Hernandez was named interim superintendent to carry out policies implemented under Thompson’s administration, which left McNeely questioning why an investigation was called for on a matter the former superintendent essentially already ruled on.

“How can a highly-paid [school district] legal staff OK a practice today, but 10 months later say it’s not legal?” McNeely wondered, before turning her attention to teachers. “Something is desperately wrong with the school when the number of failing students is that high. The teachers’ union should be embarrassed that their fellow teachers are comfortable with failing hundreds of students.”

Although rumblings of a possible teacher strike loomed in the days just prior to the 2007-2008 school year in Rockford, classes began on schedule. The quick resolution to avoid a strike, combined with Jackson’s removal in the days that followed, left critics wondering if a begrudged union may have made an unwritten demand after teachers felt their toes had been stepped on by Jackson in the grade-changing scandal.

Local talk radio airwaves crackled with far more criticisms than praise for the school district’s shaky start to the new school year. In what appeared to many as a diversion, Regional Superintendent Richard Fairgrieves revealed Jackson is no longer even certified to be an Illinois public school principal or teacher. Fairgrieves said Jackson failed one test, skipped another and did not submit paperwork to keep his credentials active.

The head of East High School and husband of the acting superintendent, Earl Hernandez, also lacks administrative certification to be a public school principal. His title, instead, is chief operating officer.

McNeely believes Jackson was singled out.

“There is something other than his changing of grades, his lapse of his certificate, that is behind his suspension,” McNeely alleged. “On the surface, it appears that there is nothing more than racism.

“The previous superintendent, the district attorney, the district school board, other principals, the teachers and Mr. Fairgrieves are not being questioned regarding their actions, or inaction,” McNeely said. Jackson has been temporarily reassigned to the district’s main office on Madison St.


Ald. Jeff Holt (D-11) applauded an ordinance regarding the city’s development agreement with Liebovich Brothers, Inc. for the company’s $1.1 million expansion, which Holt said would secure jobs in Rockford for years to come.

Committee reports

Aldermen approved an award of bid to Jefferson Fire and Safety, of Middleton, Wis., in the amount of $325,186 for a new Fire Department pumper truck.

Fischer Excavating, of Freeport, was awarded a $54,316.55 bid for reconstruction of a portion of Vermont Street.

As part of the city’s $75 million water improvement project, aldermen approved committee reports recommending agreements to reimburse developers for increasing water main diameters from 8 to 20 inches in the Arbor Heights and Riverside Marketplace subdivisions. John Kapotas will be reimbursed up to $24,215 for Arbor Heights. Landmark Development’s upsizing of mains in Riverside Marketplace is reimbursable up to $151,361.

McDermaid Roofing was awarded a $24,920 bid for roof replacement at Human Services, 612 N. Church St.

Appointments, re-appointments

Henrietta Dotson-Williams was re-appointed to a three-year term on the Board of Fire and Police Commissioners, expiring June 2010. Dotson-Williams (D) is a former Winnebago County Board member who unsuccessfully challenged Linda McNeely

for her 13th Ward aldermanic seat in 2005. Aldermen Jeff Holt (D-11) and Nancy Johnson (D-8) voted against Dotson-Williams’ re-appointment.

Jay Graham, of Graham Spencer Design, was appointed to a serve out an unexpired five-year term on the MetroCentre Authority Board, expiring June 2008.

Zoning Board of Appeals members Alice Howard, Fred Money, David Peterson, Tom Przytulski Jr., Dan Roszkowski, William Orr and Tom Morgan were appointed to the City of Rockford’s new Zoning Commission.


Mayor Morrissey proclaimed Sept. 21 International Day of Peace in Rockford.

Sept. 22 was proclaimed Mothers March Against Violence Day.

Sept. 17-23 was proclaimed Constitution Week in Rockford.

from the Sept. 19 – 25, 2007, issue

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