Home rule vote may be delayed until fall

StoryImage( ‘/Images/Story//Auto-img-11351925313316.jpg’, ‘Photo by Jeff Havens’, ‘Five members of the Rockford Codes and Regulations Committee discuss home rule at the Dec. 19 meeting. Counter-clockwise from the background are: Aldermen Frank Beach (in green), John Beck, Carl Wasco, Jeff Holt and Pat Curran.’);

The fierce home rule debate in Rockford may extend well beyond next spring until the November 2006 general election. This was the message that emerged Dec. 19 from the Rockford City Council’s Codes and Regulations Committee meeting.

The committee was expected to vote on a resolution on whether to recommend putting the question on the ballot for the March 21, 2006, primary. Instead, after starting the meeting one hour late, committee members briefly discussed the issue, and voted to lay the issue over until Jan. 3.

Ald. Frank Beach (R-10), chairman of the Codes and Regulations Committee cited Ald. Carl Wasco’s (D-4) suggestion that the issue may better serve citizens and voters if the question was placed on the ballot in the fall to provide an opportunity for more voters to participate in the decision-making process.

Wasco asserted that because fewer voters usually turn out at the polls in primary elections, he would prefer the question appear in the fall during the general election when voter participation is greater.

Supporters of home rule wanted the question to be placed on the ballot by the Rockford City Council rather than having to collect thousands of voter signatures. Opponents of home rule argued proponents should have to gather petition signatures.

When home rule was last on the ballot in 1983, home rule opponents garnered approximately 10,000 signatures to put the question to voters. The effort was led by author and Rockford resident John Gile. They argued supporters should be subjected to the same process to avoid the appearance of a double standard.

Before all 14 City Council aldermen could vote on the issue, it first must be approved by a majority of the five Codes and Regulations Committee members. Those committee members are Frank Beach (R-10), Carl Wasco (D,10) John Beck (R-12), Pat Curran (R-2) and Jeff Holt (D-11).

Beck said he was concerned the issue appeared to be “somewhat rushed” for approval by the City Council. However, he said he supported Rockford’s return to home rule power.

Curran said he was concerned that if home rule were approved, any promises made to not raise or cut taxes before the election could be reneged upon after the authority was approved.

Like Beck, Beach also appeared to support home rule authority by saying the city could raise taxes even without the new power, but the city has not taken such action. He also said “it hurts to not be trusted” by constituents to act in their best interests.

The Codes and Regulations Committee discussion began late due to a Capital Improvement Plan meeting that the aldermen attended, which was longer than anticipated.

Gile responded to the committee’s action by emphasizing that if the question is placed on the ballot by the City Council rather than obtaining voter signatures on petitions, “it sends the wrong message to the people. And that message is that there is a double standard—one for ordinary citizens and one for the privileged class.”

Gile also commended Beach for delaying the vote, and Wasco and Beck for questioning the “rush” to place the issue on the ballot.

He also had accolades for Ald. Linda McNeely (D-13) for her recent comments concerning how home rule authority will not be a panacea for illegal drug-related activity in the city.

Gile added: “We Americans are a constitutional people. We are stepping away from that concept with the Illinois version of home rule. …When we voted last April, we elected Mayor Morrissey, not King Morrissey. The king and his court have absolute power, and we don’t want that here.”

Gile said he supported Morrissey in both his campaigns for mayor in 2001 and this year.

“Larry needs to rebuild his credibility. And he could start by dissociating himself from Empower Rockford,” Gile said.

Empower Rockford is the political action committee that is advocating Rockford’s return to home rule authority. Empower Rockford is composed of dozens of prominent attorneys, politicians and business leaders, but described itself as a grass-roots organization.

Rockford Mayor Larry Morrissey could not be contacted by time of publication to respond to Gile and comment on the Codes and Regulations Committee’s action.

During the 2005 mayoral campaign, Morrissey said home rule authority was a power that must be earned through trust.

And in an April 8 column, Wally Haas of the Rockford Register Star wrote: “Morrissey told the Editorial Board last month that he wants to earn the voters’ trust and get things done before he would even consider home rule.”

From the Dec. 21-27, 2005, issue

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