Rockford Dems reject free speech

StoryImage( ‘/Images/Story//img-NvZvqaAmfN.jpg’, ‘Photo by Paul Marek’, ‘Mayor Doug Scott’);
StoryImage( ‘/Images/Story//img-HcKkw6bsY6.jpg’, ”, ‘Dave Johnson’);
StoryImage( ‘/Images/Story//img-iT907Ovu4Z.jpg’, ”, ‘Ken DeCoster’);

Party-line vote draws heat from protesters, media attention

Democrats on Rockford’s City Council refused Monday to reconsider their party-line vote to not allow citizens to publicly address the Council at meetings. Their refusal, which was led by Democratic Mayor Doug Scott, was in spite of the presence of about 40 protesters who packed the council chambers with placards, a gag and duct tape across many protesters’ mouths.

The protest was prompted by last week’s 7-6, party-line vote against Republican Alderman Dave Johnson’s (R-4) resolution to allow individuals up to three minutes to publicly address the Council, and limit the total time for all speakers to 15 minutes. Johnson, who is also Winnebago County Clerk, said he modeled the resolution after the Winnebago County Board’s policy, which, he said, works well.

Ken DeCoster, new radio talk show host on WNTA-1330 AM, organized the protest on his show last week. DeCoster explained: “The Democrats I talked to said there’s avenues available now [to voice concerns to the city]. You can call your alderman. You can write your alderman. But I think speaking to the full City Council, and the mayor, and his cabinet, is more effective than calling your alderman at times. And I think you should have the prerogative to do it,” DeCoster said.

When asked whether this was an issue about voicing concerns in a public versus a private setting, DeCoster responded: “Yeah, I think so. I think speaking publicly is more dramatic and more effective. And even if nobody shows up, there still should be time set aside.”

Rockford resident and protester Carl Nuccio agreed. Nuccio said: “We need to be able to confront them [Council members] on issues. Fifteen minutes of their time, on a Monday night council meeting, is not too much to ask.”

Alderman Nancy Johnson (D-8) echoed DeCoster’s comments about citizens being able to express concerns in writing or by telephone. However, Nancy Johnson added there are options available to would-be speakers—one of which was demonstrated Monday through a 10-minute presentation by John Anderson, on the need to plant elm trees in Rockford.

Nancy Johnson said Anderson, whose prominent family is affiliated with Anderson Gardens and owns a McHenry County nursery, arranged to make his presentation to the Council by receiving permission from Scott’s office.

Nancy Johnson also explained there are situations where individuals may address the Council on an impromptu basis, if a majority or two-thirds vote is achieved.

Nancy Johnson added: “Perhaps six months or a year from now, we may reconsider it, and maybe even on a trial basis. …At this time, the way the resolution came through, none of the seven Democrats were comfortable with that, or thought it was beneficial to both sides [Council members and citizens].”

Scott told other media he thought Dave Johnson’s resolution was election-year grandstanding in response to his son Steve Johnson’s controversial firing from the Rockford Police Department last August.

Scott added that he thought the resolution wasn’t needed. Dave Johnson responded to Scott’s comment by saying he would let the public decide the validity of his resolution.

DeCoster said about the alleged politics behind the resolution, “I think that’s petty” even if it were true.

Alderman Bill Timm (R-9) explained at Monday’s Council meeting that he didn’t “duck” the vote last week—he was on vacation with his wife in Arizona. Timm said he would have supported the resolution, which would have made the vote a 7-7 tie. Scott said he would have broken the tie by voting against the resolution.

Nuccio displayed his unhappiness with the Democrats’ action by holding a large sign that read: “Let the people speak.” Other protesters brought placards that read: “Can We Talk?,” and “Shhhhh” with a picture of a donkey—the Democratic Party’s mascot.

Richard York, another Rockford resident and protester, wrapped a sock around his mouth, and hung a placard from his neck that read: “Gagged Democrat.”

Nuccio said this probably wasn’t a one-time protest. Nuccio said his schedule allows him to attend every Council meeting until the issue is resolved one way or the other. “I encourage people to come every week,” Nuccio said.

DeCoster vowed, “This is not the end of this issue.”

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