Mayor Morrissey's answers

Editorial opinion note: While campaigning, Mayor Larry Morrissey spoke of specific projects, but had to address them in generalities because his team was not in place and because planning and execution take time. Things haven’t changed much. He’s just been sworn in. However, many of his supporters and business people in the River District still want to know what’s up first on major issues of concern.

While the daily newspaper pompously expects the world of him immediately, complete with the not-so-cute or realistic remarks about him “walking on water”; his election not being a mandate, but “an order”; and trying to stoke the fires of long-gone conflicts between Morrissey and the county—their motives are obvious. They didn’t have the guts to endorse him, and they’re embarrassed by how massively out of touch they are with the community.

By the way, when was the last time any executives of the daily were seen in Farm & Fleet—a common-touch presence suggested for Morrissey by one of their columnists? Some people are their own worst enemies. It’s time to work for Rockford, rather than for face-saving and power-agenda purposes.

Wielding the tools of reality and looking for cooperation, which is all any reasonable person can expect of him, here’s the best answers our new mayor could give about some issues on the morning he was sworn into office.

TRRT: How fast can the Main Street Mall come out?

Morrissey: Sitting here right now, I can’t tell you. There was some money in improvements funds passed April 5 that may provide funds for removing the mall. I’ll be working on our Public Works Department after taking office to examine a number of downtown infrastructure questions which may include removal of the mall and freeing up parking spaces in the ramps and on the street for retail customers, and improving overall traffic circulation.

TRRT: How fast can the river walk be built?

Morrissey: I’m meeting with all of our partners on the riverfront, the Park District, Winnebago County and the Rockford Area Convention and Visitors Bureau to remind them that the river walk is a major priority. Together, we must begin the detailed planning of the river walk. I plan on attending in May a national convention in Las Vegas focused on retail development, and I will encourage Rockford leaders to join me on that trip. We must all realize that the development of the river walk means jobs and economic development in the retail, entertainment, residential and commercial sectors.

Hopefully, many will be going to Las Vegas, and we will all implement the plan. The sad truth is for years and years, we did not have any concrete plan that clarifies basic issues like zoning and setbacks for property on the river. I’m meeting Webbs Norman, and have already met with the RACVB and Scott Christensen, and I think everyone agrees that the river walk is a community priority.

The development of the river walk from the Auburn Street Bridge to 15th Avenue Bridge, including Kent and Keith creeks, is a huge project. We have to approach it in sections. Some sections can be done soon in conjunction with efforts already under way, such as those at the Main Street museum center and the Barber-Colman complex. One section will leverage the others.

I have also spoken with Congressman [Don] Manzullo about federal pathway funds. The key is bringing the priority to all the parties of the partnership. I have every indication that it will go well.

We are going to make the river walk a priority right away.

TRRT: What are your priorities for making Rockford a green community?

Morrissey: Look at my campaign statement on the Web. That is my major renewable energy position [] from the ground up. We have to think of good design and green design. With gas prices, people are going to demand that mass transit become part of everyday life. I will make it a priority for our Public Works Department and for our Mass Transit District.

We have an opportunity to bring renewable energy into our housing and manufacturing as well.

TRRT: Are you going to encourage Rockford industry to retool to manufacture elements of wind, solar, hydro and hydrogen power? How will you do that?

Morrissey: Our manufacturing will always have their private decision to direct their own energy plans. If the city can provide incentives, I am open to options in that area. If we can leverage the incentives with state and federal programs, our Economic Development Department can encourage manufacturing creativity.

TRRT: Will we see bike lanes and new sidewalks and more trees in all parts of the city, particularly on West and East State Street?

Morrissey: Yes.

TRRT: You have stressed how culture contributes to a successful city and how cities grow economically from the arts. The Rockford Arts Council now receives $75,000 from the City of Rockford. Will you double that?

Morrissey: I fully support the arts. I can’t say right now on what budgetary level. I have to look at the whole picture. We have to grow our resources in all areas of the city that have suffered from lack of funds. Improving our housing stock and businesses and retail growth will bring resulting leverage. Substantial growth overall like that in the east will increase our funding for the arts. My new Director of Tourism, Culture and Special Events will increase our economic opportunity and bring the arts to a healthy level in our city.

TRRT: As Cheap Trick’s Rick Nielsen pointed out, many people have suggestions or ideas they think would be good for Rockford. How will you take, and focus, citizen input?

Morrissey: For starters, we are going to create a culture and an atmosphere of openness. City staff must be customer friendly to citizens. We are all owners here, much like shareholders in a corporation.

I anticipate the expanded options on the city’s Web site and other ways to relate to myself and city staff.

TRRT: Problematic buildings and areas exist in the city—the Amerock and Tapco buildings, the Ingersoll and Barber-Colman complexes and South Main Street rail yards. What are your solutions for these challenges?

Morrissey: I don’t see those as problems and challenges. I see them as opportunities for growth. With some smart effort, I see them as opportunities for new quality of life and improvement for our city.

TRRT: What are your immediate tasks?

Morrissey: My focus still is the priorities of staff and structure for success, and getting the right team in place for the next four years—correctly and quickly. I will continue meeting internally with staff and externally with partners.

I think people have a rightful sense of urgency, just like I did in the campaign. The engines are the citizens and business owners. In the past, one or two persons were supposed to save us—we all must save ourselves.

You’ll see outreach in the next few months on the following:

Staff and structure changes;

Partnership with various people and leaders; and

Public safety—a community policing model—the city must include all neighborhood residents in an effective policy for reducing crime in every neighborhood.

Here’s what’s accurate. I have not embraced a specific plan or invention of a Metro Police Force, which would entail the merging of our police department with the county’s. Rather, I have simply suggested that the city and county can work together through stronger intergovernmental agreements. We must cooperate for public safety to ensure that the community resources and tax dollars have efficient impact.

Where people expect a lot from me, I expect a lot from everybody in providing leadership to improve our community.

From the April 27-May 3, 2005, issue

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