Guest Column: Jay Graham replies to John Gile

Editor’s note: The following opinion is in response to John Gile’s Guest Column, “There is no ‘real’ home rule in Illinois,” which appeared in the Nov. 2-8 edition of TRRT.

Thank you for burying my Letter to the Editor in support of home rule and Empower Rockford’s volunteers deep in the bowels of your Oct. 26 edition—and placing John Gile’s retort to that letter on Page One in the subsequent edition. You did an excellent job of validating my claim that TRRT has an aggressive “anti” home rule bias.

In his Guest Column, John Gile calls into question my creativity and intelligence. Ditto Larry Morrissey’s. He erroneously states that there is no “real” home rule in Illinois and says that we should revise the State Constitution to create a more perfect version of it for local consumption. He goes on to further impugn the character of elected officials. And annoyingly, he continues to quote our patriot forefathers, in this case Thomas Jefferson—as if he, long dead in his grave, has a dog in this ridiculous local fight.

First off, Thomas Jefferson helped create representative government. He lived under England’s tyranny and later helped eradicate it from our shores. His thinking (and quotes) should be considered within that context. Why? Because the King of England has long since lost control over Rockford’s affairs.

Personally, I’m more concerned with less esoteric stuff—like the fact that loss of home rule has cost the property taxpayers of Rockford $5 million to date because as a non-home rule city, we now have a lower bond rating. I’m bothered by the fact that Gile’s 1983 claims that losing home rule would lower our property taxes have turned out to be wildly, expensively, all-together wrong. Our property taxes have done nothing but go up without home rule. Mayor Morrissey believes he can lower them WITH home rule.

Gile wants us to believe that Illinois’ version of home rule is not real—that it is a “so-called” home rule, unworthy of Rockford. That is like saying “my dog is a so-called dog.” home rule seems to be working nicely for all of the other “so-called” home rule communities that are leaving Rockford in the economic development, population growth and crime statistic dust, despite the imperfections Gile believes it holds.

Gile says we should amend the State Constitution and “fix” home rule before adopting it. If that’s the case, why doesn’t he stop wasting time looking up Thomas Jefferson quotes and mount an effort to do just that? Voters should ask Mr. Gile where he’s been in the 22 years since he helped abolish home rule in Rockford. He certainly hasn’t been busy “perfecting” it through constitutional revisions.

And, what solutions has he offered to the real world problems facing Rockford today, yesterday or in 1983? None that I am aware of. Yet, he wants our elected officials to continue to be hamstrung in their own efforts by a lack of home rule authority. That is a recipe for disaster that has been brewing since 1983, and it’s a pretty stinky stew. Isn’t wishing for a better version of home rule a bit like a farmer deciding not to plant his crops this spring because he thinks conditions might be better for growing them in three or four years? We need to perform better as a community NOW, not just in the future.

Gile claims to write literature of “hope and encouragement,” teaching children to be kind to each other, yet he calls our elected officials “dogs.” He says they’re “like pit bulls” that cannot be trusted with the “unlimited powers” we would foolishly bestow upon them with home rule. Outside of the fact that there is no such thing as “unlimited power” at any level of government anywhere in the United States, his poison pen characterizations of elected officials are not helpful. Perhaps Mr. Gile should spend more time in his own First Forest and get back in touch with his own inner child—and re-read some of his own advice. I urge Mr. Gile to treat elected officials with dignity and respect, like he no doubt expects to be treated himself. After all, presumably, Mr. Gile is one of the voters that helped elect our “dogs of government.” If he doesn’t like the way our officials perform, he can vote them out next election. That’s the way the system works.

At the end of the day, that gets to the core issue in our local home rule debate, doesn’t it? Should we continue down the regressive path we’ve too often been on as a community—one of mistrust and fear? Or should we move more boldly and more positively into the future with a sense of mutual trust and optimism? I prefer door No. 2. I have a lot more confidence in our elected officials than I do in John Gile. They’re actually in a position, day in and day out, to do something positive for Rockford’s future. Let’s face facts. Rockford has real problems. Rockford needs real solutions—now—not more pie-in-the-sky proselytizing from a prophet of political doom and gloom.

I invite all Rockford voters to visit and learn the truth about this issue and why we should all be solidly behind a return to home rule in the March 2006 primary.

Jay Graham is a member of the Empower Rockford political action committee that supports home rule.

From the Nov. 16-22, 2005, issue

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