Mayor gives post-game presser

StoryImage( ‘/Images/Story//Auto-img-11744998762194.jpg’, ‘Photo by Stuart R. Wahlin’, ‘Mayor Larry Morrissey (I) gave his second State of the City address March 15. The mayor touted lower crime, truancy and unemployment, as well as retiring the city’s vehicle sticker ordinance.‘);

Rockford Mayor Larry Morrissey (I) was eager to discuss his March 15 State of the City address, holding a press conference immediately following the speech.

Frank Schier, editor and publisher of The Rock River Times, kicked off the briefing by noting what he called “a huge influx” of homeless persons in the downtown area over the last several weeks.

Asked if he knew where they were coming from, and whether he’d spoken with Chicago Mayor Richard Daley (D) or the Department of Corrections about the problem, Morrissey responded: “We have to hold ourselves accountable, as a community, to get out of this cycle of co-dependency. We don’t want to be in a position where, as a community, we’re actually enabling negative lifestyles and negative conduct, which has a detrimental impact not only on the individuals, but on the whole community. We’ve got a poverty problem in Rockford, and the only way to get our hands around it, while continuing to try to be a good community, a loving community; we need to be a tough-love community.”

Morrissey called demolition of the Jane Addams housing complex an example of this tough love.

The mayor continued: “We have to end the system of independence in our social service agencies, independence in our public safety system. When the left hand doesn’t know what the right hand’s doing, it simply leads to a lot of the outcomes like you’re describing.”

“If a social service agency is getting funds from the United Way, or getting funds from Winnebago County or the city,” Morrissey said, “I think we have a right to demand accountability.”

“I think we’ll need to hold something like a monthly accountability program for our social service agencies,” he suggested. “As a group, we can start tracking the number of folks coming in. We have a number of issues to work through, but we have the technology. We can get it done.”

The mayor added, “We don’t want to be a community that says, ‘Give us your tired, your unemployed, huddled masses, and we’ll keep ’em that way.’”

The mayor said he hopes service groups throughout the community will adopt the new ROCKSTAT model, so accurate and timely intelligence can be compiled and shared between agencies.

Responding to whether he’d talked with Daley about the issue, Morrissey described the conversations as “general discussions” regarding regional human services issues.

With the subject turning to the April sales tax referendum and the campaign opposing it, Morrissey said, “I think the ultimate victory in this race will be to the team that brings out their voters on Election Day.”

A low voter turnout is expected.

The mayor said he feels better preparation and having a much more broad-based group of supporters this year will give the referendum an edge that was lacking when a similar one failed in 2006.

Without disclosing specific strategies he plans to execute in the next month, Morrissey stressed the importance of getting the word out in the weeks leading up to April 17.

Opponents have suggested improvements should be funded through a countywide program, but Morrissey argued state law does not allow for county funds to be spent on city roads. Although he wouldn’t be against such a program, Morrissey said without a change in the law, the idea of a countywide tax to fund city road improvements is “a fiction.”

“As a mayor, I would be irresponsible to our citizens if I went out and promoted a program that simply wouldn’t work,” said the mayor, blasting critics. “Then we’d have pictures of more flood victims, more pictures of crumbling roads and more pictures of urban decay. I simply can’t do that.”

The mayor was then asked to elaborate on his aspirations for Rockford College, which has sold its most valuable art and rare books in an effort to bring its finances back in order.

“They have plenty of land,” Morrissey asserted. “They have plenty of resources. Before they have to sell off any more assets and lose this wonderful, wonderful jewel in the middle of our community, we have to stop the bleeding now.”

The mayor called on the community, the city, the county and other area colleges to partner in strengthening higher education in Rockford.

Morrissey then referenced the “Rockford Promise,” a new initiative aimed at creating a fund to pay college tuition and fees for students graduating from Rockford public schools.

“The idea, I think, might be that we combine our program with the College Illinois program,” he suggested.

Despite the mayor’s desire for Rockford to retain talent, the initiative is not designed to entice high school graduates to stay in Rockford while pursuing their degrees.

Morrissey said he hopes other incentives, such as his proposed property tax rebate program for neighborhood revitalization, will attract young talent.

Morrissey indicated he was very pleased with how his State of the City address went.

from the March 21-27, 2007, issue

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