Guest Column: Burning issue needs clarification—part 1

Part 1

I would like to thank Mr. Frank Schier for the opportunity to clarify the poorly understood events surrounding the murky on again, off again issues regarding leaf burning (or the ban thereof). Proposed in two different configurations by the Solid Waste Subcommittee, the latest (third) version, (a substitute motion) unfortunately was narrowly approved by the County Board 13-12 on June 9, 2005.

As we shall see, the approved version disenfranchises most of the unincorporated area county residents within one mile of Rockford, Loves Park and Pecatonica. What we have since discovered, is that the great majority of the citizens, to this date don’t know what happened, what rights others have that they don’t have, and what they can (and should) do about it.

Mr. Randy Sturm and I have represented the taxpayers in Winnebago County Board District Five for years, Randy since 1992, and myself since 1978. We are both rural residents, and as the public would have it, we are both elected Township officials, Randy as Supervisor of Cherry Valley Township and I as Commissioner of the Rockford Township Highway Department.

Randy and I both strongly support the right of citizens to responsibly burn leaves and brush, and we both ardently oppose any effort to remove these rights from our constituents. Randy is also a member of the Solid Waste Subcommittee of the Operations Committee, which was created by the late Polly Berg, then chairman of the Operations Committee. Polly was a dear friend of mine, and for years we sat next to one another on the County Board, until Polly’s untimely death.

The Solid Waste Subcommittee (chaired by Jim Webster with members Randy Sturm and Randy Olson) met under the applied title “Committee called by the Chair” and were now driven by Chairman Scott Christiansen. Polly Berg had told me last fall, that even with her unshakable opposition to unlimited open burning, she knew that some solution other than the outright ban and all of its implications had to be found. Unincorporated-area citizens, the huge majority of our constituents, were angry and disgusted with the County Board. They had, and still have ample reason to feel (as they did and still do) ripped off and cheated by their County Board.

The first general proposal floated by the subcommittees, a bizarre scheme which banned all burning in the southeast quarter of the county, an area bordered by Meridian Road on the west and Route 173 on the north. This area contains all of the City of Rockford, Rockford Township, Cherry Valley Township and County Board District Five. It was a horrible proposal, passed by two of the subcommittee members in the absence of Randy Sturm. Randy was unjustly vilified for missing the meeting even though he had a conflict and had properly notified the board office well ahead of the meeting as to his inability to attend, and the committee overwhelmingly passed this proposed unfair idiocy 2-0.

Randy and I were in total agreement in our opposition to that poor proposal, and I so notified the committee chairman. I also informed them, as did Pat O’Donnell, the Commissioner of the Cherry Valley Township Highway Department, that when (Pat and I) agreed to help the County in a leaf pickup with our Township taxpayers’ treasure, equipment and employees, it was not to help the County to isolate certain taxpayers at the expense of others. If fair is not fair, we will do nothing to harm any of our constituents’ rights and expectations, and we are out of the oral agreement. It is not what was being presented to us.

I was then offered the opportunity to “draw another line—where would you like it?” I declined, saying I would draw no line that left anyone behind. I would do nothing to allow one constituent to burn, to the exclusion of another. Fair must be fair.

Pete MacKay is a County Board member in District 5 and Commissioner of the Rockford Township Highway Department.

From the July 27-Aug. 2, 2005, issue

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