Hanging Out in Rockford: Once in a while, a serious column

I am a longtime supporter of the new mayor. Recently, I was asked to support an idea I hadn’t thought about for some time—home rule. Basically, home rule allows our local legislators to act a little more independently when it comes to raising taxes and entering into arrangements to run local government or promote the local economy. Seems like a good idea on the surface, but one I had always been a little afraid of.

You see, I am not a big believer in government. I would like to see government do as little as possible. That is why I have always been against a reduction in the number of people on the County Board. When others say the large number of representatives makes it impossible to get anything done, I say good. I do not measure my government by how much it gets done. Quite the opposite, I measure my government by how well it serves the desires and needs of the public. More representatives ensure the will of the people is heard. Compared with the small amount of money it costs, it is a bargain.

This doesn’t mean I am against the government being involved in economic development. Perhaps I would be in a perfect world, but the cat is already out of the bag, and because other communities are acting in a certain way, it necessitates our going in the same direction. We have to compete. That is why we have organizations set up to promote the local area economically.

I’ve been a dues-paying member of the Council of 100, now called the Rockford Area Economic Development Council (RAEDC), for some time. When Ryan Petty was in town, I knew why. Now, I’m not so sure. Every month, I send them $100. I’ve begun to question what it is I and our community receive in return. They seem to be determined to build a road we don’t need, a road that only rewards developers at the expense of the rest of the community. They haven’t given up on the extension. Prove it to yourself. Just go out to the new Showplace 14 at the “end” of Perryville Road. Look at the temporary barricades that barely conceal the future expansion.

Not having home rule has not prevented this. Nor did it prevent the building of the Winnebago County Courthouse (too long ago for most people to remember, or the fact that the public voted against it). It didn’t prevent the building of the jail monstrosity, either. Scare tactics on the part of the sheriff and the state’s attorney fooled the public. They voted for a 25 percent increase in county government. Home rule was no protection at all. (I know these were county issues, but they definitely affected Rockford voters.)

We elected Larry Morrissey to make a difference. I know he didn’t make home rule part of the campaign, but the campaign was about differences in candidates, and I sincerely believe Doug Scott would be a proponent of home rule—he is a tax-and-spend Democrat. Why waste bullets or raise a distraction, when what they were trying to do was win an election? You can’t make change without winning.

I do respect Frank Schier for raising the issue; that is his job. Frank is in touch with the community—that is why he supported Larry in the first place. He is in touch with his community, but beholden to no one. Compare this with the publisher of the Rockford Register Star, who is the president of RAEDC, a conflict of interest beyond the bounds of imagination. How can you safeguard the interests of the public when you are the tool of local economic development? He should step down. But then, it’s not about the interests of the public, it’s about Gannett making money, pure and simple.

I could respect the Register Star publisher if he put his money where his mouth is, if he were a total sellout and he would actively promote the local community, but he doesn’t go this far. He treads the line between journalism and self-interest, pretending that he is a journalist, but all we get in our daily is murder, rape and mayhem. Most of the reporters sit in their offices and call people on the telephone, producing hearsay, and he does nothing about it. We get stories about which way you should roll the toilet paper and nothing about our ethnic communities. We are forced to support this nonsense by paying $180 for a seven-word help wanted ad.

But this article was and is about home rule. If we have representatives in our government in whom we have faith, and now I believe we do, then we should trust them and give them the tools they say they need to be effective. (I think, however, that it is a mistake to say that we cannot accomplish our ends unless we have home rule. Lots of things have been accomplished without it. Making an argument of this sort is just providing an excuse for failure.) If they deceive us, then we should vote them, and it, out. It can’t possibly be worse than this jail crock of s— we were sold; try voting out a $130 million concrete monstrosity.

Mike Leifheit’s “Hanging Out In Rockford” reviews locally-owned restaurants, businesses and Rockford life. These columns are available on his Web site, IrishRoseRockford.com. Leifheit is owner of the Irish Rose restaurant in the downtown River District.

From the Dec. 28, 2005-Jan. 3, 2006, issue

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