Guest Column: John Gile chooses referendums selectively

John Gile is for a referendum when it can put things in his favor; yet, he stonewalls referendums that could overturn his ideas of how to run the city.

I remembered Gile from last year’s home rule debate. I checked out his Web site mentioned in The Rock River Times’ front-page article.

Gile has a fine idea—that citizens should support a referendum to keep their state constitution reflective of its current populace. On the Web site, Gile says that opposition to this referendum will come from “…those who benefit by the status quo and fear any citizen involvement in government… from interest groups who fear the full and open discussion of ideas in the public forum…, from well-meaning but misguided men and women who do not trust the voters and who would suppress the exercise and expression of true liberty,” and others.

It is bizarre to read Gile’s strong opinion for a referendum when just earlier this year, Gile and editorialists at The Rock River Times spoke against a referendum questioning whether the city should return to being a home rule unit. I remember all the awful rhetoric of Gile and his followers’ successful attempt to stonewall a referendum on how we should govern the city.

Gile and his followers said that it was unfair to have a referendum after 23 years without a petition drive. Gile said City Council would show favoritism toward people connected to the mayor if the Council placed a home rule referendum on the ballot—never mind that Gile and his followers have had a comfortable 23 years without any opposition. They thought a referendum put on the ballot by the City Council after citizens’ request was unfair.

Yet, the Village of Rockton had a home rule referendum without a petition drive. Gile made speeches against home rule in Rockton, and the citizens agreed with Gile’s opinions—that there was no need for home rule in their village. On the home rule issue, Rockton citizens are better off than they were because the 2006 vote totals show their system of government reflects their current values. There was no stonewalling the issue—just a discussion and debate, then a vote.

Judging only from his previous speeches this year, Gile seems to only want a referendum when it won’t overturn his ideas. Gile and the people who kicked out home rule from Rockford are really proud of themselves for organizing citizens to vote on an issue that turned out in their favor in 1983. But now, if you don’t agree with Gile’s call to have a referendum on drafting a new state constitution, then you could be one of the people he pegs on his Web site as “elitists who believe they know better than the people themselves what is in the best interest of the people.”

It seems Gile believes referendums are only fair when he wants to complain. When others want to complain about policies he likes or keep ones he doesn’t, then he has a problem.

For a city and state government consistently reflective of current voters’ values, both referendums should occur. There should be a vote for returning to home rule in Rockford and a vote to bring the 1970 Illinois Constitution up for review. That way, people like me who weren’t old enough to vote for or against home rule in 1983 could have a say in how the city government should work. We could also have a say in redrafting the state constitution. Some of us, like me, weren’t even alive when it was written.

Shawn Robinson is a Rockford resident.

i>From the Feb. 14-20, 2007, issue

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