Mayoral candidates square off on growth

StoryImage( ‘/Images/Story//Auto-img-11097791482111.jpg’, ”, ‘Democrat Mayor Doug Scott’);
StoryImage( ‘/Images/Story//Auto-img-110977917032123.jpg’, ”, ‘Republican Gloria Cardenas Cudia’);
StoryImage( ‘/Images/Story//Auto-img-110977918532123.jpg’, ”, ‘Independent Larry Morrissey’);

Rockford’s three mayoral candidates fielded questions Feb. 28 concerning their views and priorities about development and the environment at a forum sponsored by the BlackHawk Sierra Club. All three candidates found at least two topics on which they all agreed—impact fees should not apply to developments within the city limits, and radium in drinking water is more of an image problem than a health issue.

Independent candidate and attorney Larry Morrissey, Rockford Park District administrator and Republican candidate Gloria Cardenas Cudia, and Democratic Mayor Doug Scott squared off Feb. 28 at the Burpee Museum of Natural History to answer questions that ranged from the creation of bike lanes to how to develop existing neighborhoods to curb or stop suburban sprawl.

Scott said the city’s shallow water wells were replaced with deep wells that are affected by radium, which is a naturally occurring radioactive element with the potential to cause cancer if ingested in sufficient concentrations. However, Scott assured attendees that the radium posed “no immediate health risk.”

The city was recently cited by the Environmental Protection Agency as being in violation of the standard for acceptable levels of radium in potable water. Scott said the citation was prompted by new testing procedures that call for sampling water at the well head instead of a residents’ home.

Although Morrissey agreed there was no need for alarm, he said the unacceptable levels of radium in the water was an image problem, which needed to be immediately solved. Should the problem persist, Morrissey fears it could create a stigma for the city.

Cudia said ground water supply was a “concern.”

The candidates also said impact fees may deter potential home buyers from purchasing houses in established areas. Impact fees are a one-time tax on home buyers to offset increased costs of government services to that residence, such as public school access, and police and fire protection.

Morrissey said Rockford is a city divided by the old and new—the new receives the bulk of investment despite poor land use plans, while the old section has been largely neglected by city officials. He also emphasized energy efficiency, renewable technologies and to implement plans rather than allowing studies “to gather dust.” He stressed action rather than words.

Developing the riverfront south from Whitman Street to South Main Street, obtaining passenger rail transportation and repairing and constructing well-planned roads are among Morrissey’s “critical priorities.” Other “crucial” issues he said were public schools, crime and public safety.

In a clear jab directed toward Scott, Morrissey emphasized that since the city is divided, he would work to unite city leaders by cultivating “internal connections rather than external ones.” Throughout Scott’s first term as mayor, Scott touted his relationships with key state legislators and Gov. Rod Blagojevich as anasset to the city. Scott was a state representative for the 67th District for six years between 1995 and 2001.

Morrissey closed his comments by saying that during Scott’s term, there has been “no activity” and “non-smart growth.”

Cudia lauded the multi-government agency-sponsored Green Communities’ environmental vision, which delineates a plan of action to address Winnebago County citizens’ concerns about development and suburban sprawl. She wants to “market” the plan.

She repeatedly emphasized that the city should build “partnerships with other organizations” to achieve the goals of Green Communities’ plan, which includes objectives such as redeveloping existing urban areas and coordinating land use plans and transportation plans between government agencies.

Cudia favors tax credits to attract developers to invest in older sections of the city, and said racism and discrimination still exist in the city. If elected, she plans to implement an “open door policy” and hold public meetings on a quarterly basis to hear citizens’ concerns.

Scott began his portion of the forum by expressing his pride and experience with the city’s solid waste and recycling programs. Those issues were the subject of two investigative news articles during Scott’s tenure, published by The Rock River Times. The articles on Oct. 9, 2002, and Feb. 23, 2005 questioned the fairness and lack of verification processes in the city’s garbage contracts with companies that are connected to a politically powerful business—William Charles Investments Inc.

Scott also emphasized that the city has taken “proactive” steps during his tenure to address environmental concerns.

Despite difficult economic times, Scott said the city spent “millions” in older neighborhoods where private investors would not invest without city leadership. As an example, he cited the condominiums that are being built on the former Kmart property on North Main Street, which was made possible by the creation of tax increment financing (TIF) district.

Scott also said his administration plans to create a Green Communities Coordinator position, which will be responsible for working with other agencies to implement Green Communities’ plans.

Morrissey said he would use existing staff to implement the green plan. Scott countered by implying the additional green duties would take time away from the city staff’s existing responsibilities.

Other issues that were discussed were acquiring and linking open space and leadership on development issues.

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