Mayor defends home rule

StoryImage( ‘/Images/Story//Auto-img-113036086332636.jpg’, ”, ‘Larry Morrissey’);

Morrissey: ‘It’s an appropriate time to begin this discussion’

Rockford Mayor Larry Morrissey said Oct. 24 he needs the controversial power called “home rule” to better achieve goals he communicated during the mayoral campaign last spring. However, regardless of the outcome on the home rule referendum next March, he will do his best to fulfill his campaign promises—with or without home rule.

“I’m looking for tools to help me do the job of leading the city as effectively as I can,” Morrissey said. “If we have issues we need to deal with, let’s talk about them.”


In a controversial move that surprised some of his supporters, Morrissey expressed approval for Rockford to return to home rule authority at an Oct. 12 press conference, which was organized by a newly formed committee called Empower Rockford. Unlike a large number of Morrissey’s supporters, Empower Rockford is anything but a grassroots organization.

Empower Rockford is composed of at least 15 prominent, wealthy or well-connected business leaders, individuals and public officials. As of Oct. 24, the committee raised $21,400 from contributors, which were detailed in last week’s issue of The Rock River Times.

All of the money raised by Empower Rockford was collected before the mayoral campaign was in full gear in February. The last contribution was received Jan. 15, 2005. However, return to home rule was not a major issue discussed during Morrissey’s campaign against former Democratic Mayor Doug Scott and Republican challenger Gloria Cardenas Cudia.

Why now?

Morrissey explained the reason home rule has emerged now is because he needs the power to more effectively implement remedies to issues, such as street crime, public school truancy, and passenger rail service.

He added that home rule was discussed during his first unsuccessful run for mayor in 2001, and again last spring. Specifically, Morrissey said the issue was raised when the topic of how to deal with drug houses and homes that were abandoned, boarded or vacant, was debated.

As an example, Morrissey said without home rule authority, he can not enter into right-of-way agreements outside the “corporate limits” of the city. The land would be acquired through the city in an effort to extend passenger rail service from Chicago to Rockford.

In another example, Morrissey said without home rule, the city cannot draft an ordinance that would allow police to issue citations to parents or guardians of students who are habitually truant. He said the city should enact this initiative because the Rockford School District does not have the authority or resources to implement such a tool to deal with truants.

Morrissey cited these examples as testimonials to the need for home rule in Rockford, which is why he supports Empower Rockford’s efforts to bring the question to voters.

Why and why not

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 Oct. 12 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.

An issue of trust

As to the issue of trust in public officials to exercise home rule powers judiciously, Morrissey said he thinks the results of the spring election show voters have confidence, faith and trust in his leadership.

“The absence of home rule has a definite impact on my ability to carry out the charge that I think the voters gave me to bring about positive action and positive change for the city….Are we going to be led by faith, not fear, hope, not despair and leadership that’s close, not far away?” Morrissey asked.

Morrissey defeated runner-up incumbent Scott in the 2005 election by 13.8 percentage points. Morrissey collected 54.8 percent of the vote, to Scott’s 41 percent and Cardenas Cudia’s 4.1 percent.

“It’s been 22 years. …It’s an appropriate time to begin this discussion,” Morrissey said.

‘Are we there yet?’

Before home rule can be put before the voters, the issue first has to be approved by a majority of the City Council, or Empower Rockford supporters must collect enough petition signatures from registered voters. Supporters of home rule plan to do both.

Morrissey plans to bring the question of home rule to the City Council. If approved by the majority of the City Council members, voters will be able to approve or reject the initiative in a March 2006 referendum.

Just in case the City Council move fails, Empower Rockford also plans to collect petition signatures from 10 percent of the registered voters’ in Rockford to make sure the question is on the ballot next year.

Morrissey argued that bringing home rule to a vote would be a “statement of confidence in myself as a leader in this community,” and a demonstration of action that voters want. He added that if he didn’t bring the issue to a vote, “I would be taking a backward shot at myself.”

But what if voters approve home rule and a different mayor succeeds Morrissey? He responded by saying the April 5 election was a major paradigm shift in which voters rejected the “old way” the city was operated, and embraced faith in ideals that are greater than a single person.

“I describe what happened on April 5 as not necessarily what I created, but what I tapped into,” Morrissey said.

In addition to providing new ways to address street crime, Morrissey said home rule could also help collect and report information related to other types of crime, such as corruption, white-collar crime and organized crime. However, Morrissey said they would have to examine whether such an ordinance would be legally permissible.

Regarding the outcome of the March referendum, Morrissey said: “I think it’s going to serve as a guide for us to know: ‘Are we there yet?’…

“In the final analysis, whatever happens … it will move this community to the proper dialogue and discussion towards one of trust, faith and leadership,” Morrissey said.

Frm the Oct. 26-Nov. 1, 2005, issue

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