Guest Column: Home rule and its Empower Rockford proponents

I read with dismay your Oct. 19 skewering of home rule and its Empower Rockford proponents. Let me get this straight. According to your coverage…

Pete Provenzano is a bad guy because he volunteered time and money to help elect a mayor that your newspaper strongly supported in the 2004 election—and now wants to help empower that mayor to more efficiently achieve some of the things you agreed he was better prepared to achieve than his opponent. Jim Keeling is a bad guy because, similarly, he has spent time and money to do what he thinks will make his hometown a better place to live. Both are bad guys because they have made political contributions in the past and are politically active.

Jim Thacker is a bad guy because he had the temerity to walk into your office and answer questions in his capacity as campaign manager for Empower Rockford. He’s equally evil because he referred some questions to other committee members he considered better qualified to answer them. And the rest of us on the Empower Rockford committee are, by association, guilty of being “well-heeled” bandits eager to help facilitate the fleecing of Rockford’s unsuspecting citizens.

Also, you say, The Rock River Times has no editorial bias. On the contrary, The Rock River Times exists to speak “the truth” to the people. The operative notion seems to be that the people are too dumb to discern what’s true on their own. Thank God you’re here to spell it out for them.

Finally, you seem to believe, home rule is all about taxes—the taxes that our duly elected local citizen-officials will impose upon themselves and their fellow citizens the second home rule powers are restored to Rockford.

Well, I’ve known Jim Keeling and Pete Provenzano for a long time. The character assassination and innuendo you heaped on them borders on libel. They’re both caring individuals whose presence has benefited this community in a variety of different ways. How many times do you suppose SupplyCore has been offered significant sums of money to relocate its business to “greener pastures”? I suspect the answer is “plenty.” Look at it this way: while old-line companies like Clarcor pick up and move to Nashville, SupplyCore, led by its relatively young CEO, is digging in and trying to improve Rockford. No offense to Clarcor. I’m sure they had good reasons to move to a home rule community like Nashville.

As for the rest of us, it’s true (present company excepted); there are some well-heeled individuals involved in Empower Rockford. Let’s take John Anderson as an example. He’s a really bad guy, having created and given to the community Anderson Japanese Gardens, the finest of its kind in North America and a prominent Rockford visitor attraction. Really, John should be lynched for doing dastardly stuff like that to Rockford—and for employing all those people for all those years in his manufacturing companies. Damn him!

As for the notion that TRRT has no editorial bias, let me say that I’m more than a casual observer. I read your paper every week. Your bias seems plain as day; generally speaking, TRRT is against just about anything the Register Star is for. Now, there’s nothing inherently wrong with that—everyone has to define his or her company and create a niche. But, don’t deny that you have a bias, then sanctimoniously claim that you are simply here to tell “the truth.” Taking a stand against a competitor’s position doesn’t make YOUR stand any more or less truthful.

TRRT jumped on this home rule issue like a dog on a bone. You couldn’t wait. And the lack of real homework (pun intended) devoted to the issue shows. I wish you would have spent more time researching home rule and how its loss has affected Rockford than you did writing inflammatory, hyperbolic lines like, “the rotting corpse of home rule has been exhumed and paraded before the citizenry…” But maybe that’s just MY bias showing through. I prefer facts to fiction.

My company, GrahamSpencer, helped create the Empower Rockford Web site as a public service. Why? Not because we’re well-heeled or part of a conspiracy, but because we care about Rockford and believe home rule would help our community. Those who spend a few minutes on the Web site will find several information-packed PDFs illustrating the direct experience of other communities with Home Rule—and much more. Of course, that information strongly refutes your framing of Home Rule as “Trojan horse of taxes.” The facts simply do not support your claim. There’s more information to come on the Web site, by the way, especially on the taxation issue, so please check back later.

Members of our group—citizens of Rockford, just like you—are strong believers that this community has suffered since home rule was voted out in 1983. Who among us would say that Rockford has flourished since then? We believe that issues like urban blight, crime, truancy and economic development opportunities can be better handled with home rule power than without it.

You say Empower Rockford is not “grass roots.” How’s this for grass roots: there’s a crack house on my block and another crack house less than two blocks away. Larry Morrissey believes that with home rule power, the City would have enhanced authority to shut them down once and for all. I take him at his word. I figure if he wants to enhance his career as a politician, he will probably see the wisdom in helping enhance the quality of life in my neighborhood and others. Evidently, you don’t trust Larry Morrissey—despite the fact that The Times read like The Morrissey Times during the campaign. News Flash: it’s not a good idea to devote hundreds of column inches in your newspaper to getting someone elected if you don’t trust him.

What’s your solution for the crack houses in my neighborhood and others? Less urban blight should mean higher property values. Perhaps there’s some reason you’re against higher property values in my neighborhood? I suppose you’d say that my intention is to re-gentrify the neighborhood I’ve lived in for almost 20 years and force out the poor, downtrodden crack dealers. Guilty as charged. That’s exactly what I’d like to witness. So, again—what’s your solution on this issue? Shall we have a referendum and decide if the community approves or disapproves of drug houses? Home rule opponents are, by definition, referendum proponents, after all.

From the outset, our group decided that we want to have a quiet, considered debate in the community about home rule. We do not want to raise our voices or needlessly polarize the citizenry. We want to hear what home rule opponents have to say, and we want the opposition to hear what we have to say. Home rule is a multi-dimensional issue. It is NOT just about taxes. One thing is sure—to look at home rule with single-issue blinders on and scream at the top of your ink-stained lungs is a mistake and a disservice to your readers. Please—spare us the innuendo, the character assassination, the oversimplification of the home rule issue. Let’s re-focus on the facts as we examine this issue as a community.

Editor’s note: This guest column was submitted by Jay Graham, owner of the company GrahamSpencer. The business is an advertising agency, graphic design firm and Web consultant. GrahamSpencer developed Empower Rockford’s Web site, which is the committee promoting the return to home rule in Rockford.

According to GrahamSpencer’s Web site, the following are some businesses GrahamSpencer lists as clients: Rockford Register Star; SupplyCore, Inc.; AMCORE Financial, Inc.; Market Insurance Group; First Rockford Group; Greater Rockford Airport Authority; and Rockford Area Convention and Visitors’ Bureau.

The Rockford Register Star and AMCORE are financial contributors to Empower Rockford. SupplyCore is partly owned by Peter Provenzano, who is the treasurer for Empower Rockford. State Sen. Dave Syverson (R-34) is one of the owners of Market Insurance Group. Development firm First Rockford Group, which is led by political heavyweight Sunil Puri, heav

ily contributes to local, state and federal campaign coffers.

The Greater Rockford Airport Authority and Rockford Area Convention and Visitors’ Bureau are taxpayer-supported agencies.

Graham appears to be referring to either of two news articles concerning home rule in last week’s issue of The Rock River Times. He also referred to Joe Baker’s “Viewpoint” column, which is Baker’s opinion on current events.

The Rock River Times detailed who contributed money to Empower Rockford in last week’s issue. The Rockford Register Star followed the lead with a similar article on the contributions, which was published Oct. 25—six days after The Rock River Times’ article.

From the Oct. 26-Nov. 1, 2005, issue

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