Guest Column: Winnebago County Recorder in favor of home rule

Lyman Hall was one of the signers of our Declaration of Independence. He was a minister and a physician and he was sent to Philadelphia as one of three representatives from the State of Georgia to debate and vote on independence from England. The Georgia delegation was split on declaring independence. Since the majority of the people of Georgia were opposed to a declaration of war against England, Hall found himself confronting a dilemma. Would he vote with the emotional and vocal desires of his constituency to avoid war with England or would he use his intellect and the information he garnered at the convention to make a decision which was contrary to the wishes of his constituents, but in the best interest of this new nation?

Ultimately, Dr. Hall concluded that this new government was to be a Republic. As such, elected representatives would be responsible to make many of the difficult decisions that should not be made as a result of emotional interpretation, fear or group think. We, as a nation, are fortunate that Dr. Lyman reached that conclusion. If he had not, there may never have been a United States of America.

Many of the opponents home rule contend that we cannot trust our elected representatives and base their argument on the element of fear as to what might happen if we reinstall home rule in Rockford. Their argument has made a slight shift in recent weeks from opposing home rule to opposing allowing the Rockford City Council to cast the vote allowing the issue to be placed on the ballot in the March primary election.

They want the proponents of “Empower Rockford” to go out and solicit the 10,000 signatures necessary to put the issue to referendum. Opponents know that it was much easier to knock on doors and ask people to sign a petition removing power from government than it would be to ask people to sign such a document to increase government power.

Ald. Linda McNeely made an impromptu speech on the Council floor recently saying she supported home rule, but felt the petitioners should circulate petitions rather than ask the Council to cast a vote allowing the issue to get on the ballot. I question the sincerity of her support for the issue. She knows, as does John Gile, and the other opponents of home rule, that it is much easier to support a negative image of government than it is to propose empowering government. Consequently, it will be much more difficult for the issue to reach the ballot box. They are counting on that.

However, if the City Council votes to put the issue on the ballot, those silent citizens who do not make public pronouncements of their position just may realize that Rockford has not prospered the way it could have during the last 20 years and that home rule may provide the means to allow our new mayor and the City Council to set a new direction for Rockford.

Our City Council is confronting the same dilemma as that which confronted Dr. Lyman Hall in 1776. Do they vote the way of the loud voices in our community who use fear and intimidation to make their case, or do they muster the courage to vote to place the issue on the ballot and allow the proponents and opponents an opportunity to make their cases, so that we as citizens may decide the issue once and for all?

A question for those among us who distrust the people they send to City Council, County Board, Springfield and Washington, D.C.: What is your alternative to representative government? There are alternatives, but we must be careful of what we wish for.

It is so much easier to sit on the sidelines and take potshots at those we elect as well as Monday morning quarterback their decisions. If you don’t like the people representing you, maybe you should consider leaving the soapbox of anonymity found on radio talk shows and seek public office. Circulate petitions and put your name on the ballot. However, remember, after you are elected you’ll have to make the same choices, albeit at a different level, that Dr. Lyman Hall confronted. You won’t be voting whether to create a new nation, but you will vote on some very important and controversial issues. Will you vote with the vocal element of your constituency, or will you vote for what you know is best in the long run for the people you represent?

Mayor Morrissey and the City Council want the power to lead this community and attempt to resolve many of the problems confronting us. Let us at least give them a chance to make their case. We can only do so if the Council votes to put the issue on the ballot. I, for one, urge the City Council to give us a chance to vote on the issue of home rule and the future of our community.

Ken Staaf is the Winnebago County Recorder.

From the Jan. 11-17, 2006, issue

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