Home rule advocates stage rally

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Approximately 125 supporters for Rockford’s return to home rule authority staged a rally Nov. 14 at the University of Illinois College of Medicine at Rockford. The event was sponsored by the political action committee Empower Rockford, which featured Rockford Mayor Larry Morrissey.

After a half-hour delay, five speakers, led by Morrissey, cited reasons why the city should return to home rule, which comes 22 years after voters rejected the authority in 1983. Morrissey said that, like an alcoholic, “Rockford is addicted to mediocrity,” which affects the entire community and inhibits Rockford to fulfill its potential.

He also said the return to home rule could provide Rockford the opportunity to lower taxes, especially property taxes, if it is approved by voters next spring. He also said Rockford could lower interest payments on bond debt that funds public works projects, and announced he would propose a five-year economic plan for the city.

“Hold us accountable,” Morrissey said of his staff and City Council. He urged the discussion of home rule take place “respectfully”; and no matter the outcome, like his personal family after disagreements, “we still hug and love each other.”

Interim Rockford Police Chief Dominic Iasparro said home rule would give new powers to deal with prostitution, massage parlors and drug houses.

City Attorney Jennifer Cacciapaglia said new powers could address boarded-up homes, code violations, and mandatory landlord education and licensing. She said Rockford was known regionally for its sex trade because “we have no rules.” She urged voters to “Become independent of Rockford’s ‘one size fits all’ attitude. Cacciapaglia added that Rockford residents do not need, “Springfield acting as our guardian.”

Rockford College President Paul Pribbenow purported, “The favorite word in our community is ‘No.’” He said any success he has had was based on saying, “Yes.”

Rockford Police and Fire Commissioner Jim Powers lamented how hard it was to get Springfield legislators’ approval for power to deal with graffiti. Powers said the graffiti program was a success. Powers also said he was directing the petition drive and asked for monetary support to sign up petition circulators. He was also upset that some e-mails the city received on home rule were “full of rhetoric and full of vulgarities.”

Other supporters of home rule present were Rock Valley College Board Member Ted Biondo, Rockford Park District Board members Doug Williams and Laura Pigatti and Rockford School District 205 Board President Nancy Kalchbrenner.

According to home rule opponent John Gile, return to such authority would offer more opportunities for local authorities to incur debt and raise taxes without input from voters, specifically referendums. He also countered that the real question public officials should be asking is: “How can we fix home rule so the people can decide what home rule powers they don’t want local government to have?”

Jim Keeling, rally leader, Empower Rockford Chairman and Hinshaw & Culbertson attorney said, since the 1983 defeat of home rule: “Anyone under 40 years old or anyone who moved here had not had a chance to vote on home rule. That’s stupid.” He also said the petition drive would be a five-month effort to collect 10,700 signatures. He cited as “critical” the necessity to “have aldermen get the message and get it on the ballot.”

Rockford resident and activist Alberto Altamore said of the rally: “Naturally, they support some small positives and don’t address the negatives. I wish that Larry, if he was going to be such a strong supporter of this, would have stressed that during the campaign. There was some Republicans, Democrats and Independents that would not have been as enthusiastic in supporting him. I think the negatives of home rule outweigh the positives. I hope the discussion is civil. I support Larry. I trust Larry, but what about those that come after him? I believe it should be up to the City of Rockford to decide this issue. I hope people will take the time to study the issue. Once we have it, it will be extremely difficult to remove it.”

Brightly colored banners hung on the wall bearing the slogans: HOME RULE=KIDS IN SCHOOL; POWER (BACK) TO THE PEOPLE; GOOD-BYE CRACK HOUSE.

The musical group “One Drum” provided music before and after the rally.

Many people attending were undecided on the issue and hoped for discussion. However, there was no question and answer period.

From the Nov. 16-22, 2005, issue

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