Guest Column: John Gile’s speech to City Council

Monday, Nov. 28, 2005

My name is John Gile. I am an author, journalist, editor, publisher and communications consultant with deep roots in the Forest City.

My family moved to Rockford in 1952. I graduated from Rockford schools and returned to Rockford after three years of military service in America and abroad in the 1960s.

I married my childhood sweetheart, a Rockford native, in 1967, and we have reared two sons and four daughters here.

Our publishing and communications company has been based in Rockford for 34 years.

Through these experiences, I have come to know the people of Rockford as creative, caring, compassionate and competent citizens committed to building a greater Rockford for all. I reject and condemn the characterization of Rockford’s citizens in a recent newsletter emanating from City Hall as a community “addicted to mediocrity.”

Twenty-three years ago, citizens launched a grass-roots campaign for a referendum to repeal so-called home rule, which was imposed upon our city by the 1970 state constitution. I served as spokesperson for the campaign.

I refer to the Illinois version of home rule as “so-called” because, unlike other states, Illinois denies local citizens the right to create a local charter or constitution specifying what home rule powers citizens want and do not want their local government to exercise.

Rockford voted against the 1970 state constitution 52 percent to 48 percent, but it passed in the state, and so-called home rule was forced upon Rockford without local citizen consent or approval.

Efforts to repeal so-called home rule here started in the 1970s, culminating in the successful repeal in 1983 by a margin of 54 percent to 46 percent.

About eight weeks ago, a handful of government and business executives and lawyers announced they have pooled $21,000 for a campaign to have a home rule referendum March 21, and they want you to assure its place on the ballot with a simple City Council resolution.

I have no problem with presenting the issue to the electorate, and welcome a healthy and vigorous debate. Giving private citizens more say in city government was the essence of the repeal in 1983 and is the essence of my message at today.

Putting home rule on the March ballot with a simple City Council resolution is a different matter, though. When ordinary citizens wanted a home rule referendum, they were forced to spend thousands of dollars and thousands of volunteer hours getting signatures on referendum petitions. It would seem only fair that home rule proponents be held to the same standard.

Running it through the City Council would establish a double standard of citizenship—one for ordinary citizens and one for a privileged class—and would give citizens the impression that you, the City Council, are mere puppets of the privileged rather than servants of all the people.

I urge you to reject any double standard and to oppose any effort to use the Council in a way that would diminish our trust in you.

May God bless you, your families, all the citizens of Rockford, and the noble experiment in human liberty we call the United States of America.

From the Nov. 30-Dec. 6, 2005, issue

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