Viewpoint: Airport drops police unit

Viewpoint: Airport drops police unit

By Joe Baker

Airport drops

police unit

By Joe Baker

Senior editor

Greater Rockford Airport no longer has its own police department. The department was abolished by vote of the airport board.

Three full-time dispatchers and two part-time dispatchers’ positions also were abolished. Instead, the board created what are called “operations officers.”

Mayor Doug Scott’s office confirmed the police department was eliminated

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and that city police will handle any emergency calls at the airport. He related the 11 members of the discontinued department will continue to work in fire rescue.

Mayor Scott’s office said the move had been discussed for many months and was justified by the fact there was only one call of an emergency nature in a year’s time.

Additionally, he related, airport officials anticipate federal authorities taking over screening responsibilities if passenger service is provided at the airport.

Besides abolishing the police department at the airport, the airport board approved raises of $2,500 each for co-directors Steve Nicholson and Michael Zonsius. Mayor Scott said he approved of what he called the “temporary stipend.”

According to Tom Johnson, spokesman for union personnel in the former police unit, the board discussed the pay raises in closed executive session, then waited until all spectators were gone before voting on it in open session. That has been a long-standing technique with the airport board.

Johnson said three full-time and two part-time dispatchers were cut, and two ranking supervisors were given early retirement packages. He said new and untrained personnel are being hired.

He called the board’s action “vengeful, vindictive retaliation for filing unfair labor practice charges.” The union is pursuing a lawsuit against the airport over wages and failure to disclose pertinent records.

The union’s attorney in Chicago, Doug Wehrman, said the charges were filed under the Fair Labor Standards Act. He said he is about to take depositions in the case and anticipates going to trial in four to six months.

We wonder who is going to patrol the airport grounds? What if there is an actual emergency, such as a crash? Who will respond? Do we expect city police to deal with that? Johnson said if there is an incident now, the airport personnel must escort city police to the scene. They can take no action themselves.

As for passenger service, the mayor said he is in contact with several airlines. He said the plan to expand O’Hare will help us. Scott replied through his Communications Cooridinator John Strandin: “We’re starting to see the airlines starting to add service.”

However, at the Jan. 16 Discovery Center press conference Mayor Scott said, “There’s also 9/11; prior to that date, I thought we were going to have something here by midyear. The difficulty now is that none of the airlines are in an expansion mode. They’re trying to stay alive.

“The O’Hare expansion is going to happen, and there are opponents. I still think it will happen,” he said, adding Rockford will benefit during the construction period.

Scott was upset that many see us as a cargo airport only, saying, “Cargo and passenger service, now and never, have been mutually exclusive.”

According to his office, he also believes Gov. Ryan will be of help in putting our airport to better use.

It appears the good ol’ boys club is continuing business as usual on the airport board. We seem to be sitting back and waiting for someone else to get us some passenger service. How dependent are we on state leaders and Mayor Daley’s viewpoints? Will Rockford succeed in pushing our own agenda?

The window of opportunity is showing signs of closing. If the past is a prologue, we are going to end up with an expensive, tax-supported United Parcel Service terminal.

Progress seems ongoing with rail service; we need the same for airline service.

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