Home rule proponent Provenzano dodges TRRT interview

StoryImage( ‘/Images/Story//Auto-img-112975046411325.jpg’, ”, ‘Peter Provenzano’);
StoryImage( ‘/Images/Story//Auto-img-112975048011325.jpg’, ”, ‘Larry Morrissey’);
StoryImage( ‘/Images/Story//Auto-img-112975049011325.jpg’, ”, ‘Jim Keeling’);

Home rule issue may prove hotter than jail tax debate of 2002

Home rule advocate and Greater Rockford Airport Authority Commissioner Peter Provenzano led an Oct. 12 press conference at Memorial Hall to persuade voters they should approve the initiative next March. However, Provenzano was a no-show for an interview the following day to answer questions regarding home rule, his family’s business and his relative’s former property.

Instead, Jim Thacker appeared for Provenzano, as a substitute for the interview.

Thacker is a political consultant, who advised Rockford Mayor Larry Morrissey during his successful campaign to defeat former Mayor Doug Scott in last spring’s election. Thacker also writes political columns for The Rock River Times, and is campaign manager for the Home Rule committee, which is called Empower Rockford.

Thacker said he advised Provenzano to not appear for the interview after Thacker observed a list of questions and topics The Rock River Times provided to Provenzano as a courtesy. The list was requested by Provenzano late Oct. 12 to “prepare” for the interview.

Thacker said he showed for the interview because he could better answer questions than Provenzano.

Specifically, Thacker said: “They hired me to come in and to be an adviser to them. And so, I advised Pete not to come to this interview. I wanted to come here and get a better handle on what kind of questions you’re asking.”

Pros and cons

Provenzano is treasurer for Empower Rockford, which is a committee formed last year to promote home rule. Provenzano was appointed to the airport board in August by Morrissey, who also supports home rule.

According to Empower Rockford, home rule “empowers locally elected officials to tackle problems in the most appropriate fashion. In 1983, Rockford gave up this ability, and now we have to ask Springfield to grant us the authority to implement solutions. Home rule gives power to our people and our elected officials.”

Critics of Home Rule, such as local author John Gile, argued exactly the opposite of its supporters.

Gile wrote in a guest column last week in The Rock River Times that home rule “would give Rockford politicians free rein to tax and spend and impose regulations—without asking the citizens for permission. …[T]he Illinois version of so-called ‘home rule’ gives politicians virtually unlimited power to tax, to regulate, and to incur debt.

“Rockford citizens voted to take back control over their local government by repealing home rule in a 1983 referendum, imposing restraints on city government activities and forcing the City Council to ask for permission to levy taxes.”

Gile was a leader in repealing home rule in Rockford.

Where’s the beef?

During the Rockford mayoral campaign last spring, Morrissey suggested home rule was a power that must be earned by public officials through trust before it could be implemented. Morrissey also said he based many of his decisions on empirical data.

However, Thacker could not provide such empirical data that showed trust in public officials increased since Morrissey was elected in April.

Thacker said: “I think that we feel that the perception out there is that people have confidence in their government. …We don’t have a poll, if that’s what you’re asking for. …That whole issue of trust is kind of besides the point.”

Thacker added that Morrissey needs home rule to help him fulfill promises he made during the campaign. The promises included addressing street crime, public school issues such as truancy, development and local economic issues.

“They’re taking this question to the people,” Thacker said.

Politics and money

Provenzano and his business, SupplyCore, Inc., heavily contributed and loaned money to help elect Morrissey. In total, $145,162 in cash contributions, in-kind contributions and loans were received by Morrissey’s campaign from SupplyCore.

The company, whose predecessor business was known as Pro Technical Products, Inc., also contributed frequently to the campaigns of Republican Congressmen Donald A. Manzullo (R-16, Egan) and John McCain (R-Ariz). Since 1998, SupplyCore has been the recipient of more than $200 million in U.S. Department of Defense contracts.

SupplyCore offers supply and procurement services to government agencies. State records indicate the company has origins dating to 1987, when it was called Pro Technical Products, which was incorporated by Provenzano’s father, Albert J. Provenzano.

Thacker suggested that if The Rock River Times were to write an article concerning Provenzano and home rule, that they be separated, not combined.

“In other words, I don’t want to mix the two. …I don’t want to see an article that says the home rule campaign wasn’t willing to answer certain questions,” Thacker said.

Thacker answered some questions, but referred one to Morrissey, Winnebago County State’s Attorney Paul Logli or Jim Keeling—a Rockford attorney with the law firm Hinshaw and Culbertson, and chairman of Empower Rockford.

Since 1994, Keeling has personally contributed $4,025 to local campaign coffers in 17 transactions. Keeling contributed a total of $850 to former Democratic Rockford Mayor and state Rep. Doug Scott; $825 to Republican state Sen. Dave Syverson (R-34); $1,000 to Winnebago County Deputy State’s Attorney Chuck Prorok’s failed bid for judge in 2000; and $500 to former Republican Winnebago County Board Chairman Kris Cohn.

Cohn is married to Stuart Cohn, who is the president of Behr Aluminum, Inc. Behr is one of at least eight, unidentified Behr companies that contributed $3,500 to Empower Rockford in November 2004.

Q & A

Keeling was asked, since reducing street crime was being used as an argument for approving home rule, how could home rule address other types of crime, such as organized crime, corruption and white-collar crime?

Keeling left a message referring questions about home rule to Empower Rockford’s Web site. Nothing on the Web site addresses anything but street crime. He also said he was uncertain about the history of home rule regarding other types of crime.

Thacker responded to the question of whether home rule would provide new opportunities to raise taxes, fees and bond indebtedness by saying: “I don’t know if this provides new opportunities, because those opportunities already exist.”

To address issues such as truancy, Thacker said: “There’s no [additional] cost involved. No taxes have to be raised for any of these initiatives. … home rule can help fight crime. Home rule can help fight truancy. Home rule can actually benefit the city in terms of lowering the debt interest burden.”

The Rock River Times endorsed Morrissey for mayor in March and in 2001, when Morrissey first campaigned for mayor. Morrissey also defended The Rock River Times against a libel lawsuit in 2004 when Morrissey was an attorney in private practice.

However, Frank Schier, editor and publisher of The Rock River Times, said the lawsuit, endorsements of Morrissey and opinions published in the paper do not affect the reporting of news.

“This paper will simply not allow anyone to dictate to us what questions to ask or not ask, or when to ask them," Schier said. “Being politically correct has never been a great concern here—our greatest concern is the truth—no matter what the truth costs us, and I’m sure it will, again. Telling the truth has cost us dearly in the past, and we have proudly paid that price and will continue to do so. A free press must never be handcuffed by relationships or monetary concerns if it is to present and protect the public’s right to know.

“Topically, what is the truth about the benefits of ‘home rule? Is it what some people call the real Golden Rule—those with the gold make all the rules?” Schier said, “Supposedly, that’s not the case in our democracy. Yet look at the line up of monetary supporters of Empower Rockford and the timing of their donations. They were all made in 2004. This mo

vement was under way well before the mayoral elections of this year. Yet, home rule was not a topic during the campaign. Why not?

“We urge our readers to go to www.homerulenow.com. This is the presentation so far, which fails to mention taxation powers associated with home rule.”

“Home rule holds many pros and cons to debate,” Schier said. “The Rock River Times looks forward to those presentations in these pages. However, removing the referendum requirement on major tax questions is taxation without representation, and that is the major con of home rule so far.”

From the Oct. 19-25, 2005, issue

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