Council to consider appointing citizens’ police review board
News and notes from the Nov. 2 Rockford City Council meeting
By Stuart R. Wahlin
Norma Joseph, president of the Rockford chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), presented aldermen with a resolution aimed at improving relations between police and the communities they serve.
In particular, Joseph is calling for a citizens’ police review board (CPRB) to examine use-of-force cases and allegations of police brutality.
Presently, the city has a use-of-force review board, but Joseph noted the panel is composed only of law enforcement officials.
“In 2008, the Rockford Use-of-Force Review Board discussed five incidents, and did not find any issues with policies or equipment,” she reported, alluding in part to the recent decisions by local law enforcement to pull controversial Tasers from use after the manufacturer issued warnings.
Instead, Joseph is proposing a council-appointed review board consisting of three representatives of minority organizations, three neighborhood association representatives, one law enforcement representative and two at-large members.
The CPRB would work independently of concurrent investigations, and would have subpoena powers.
At the request of Ald. Ann Thompson-Kelly (D-7), the resolution was referred to the Code & Regulation Committee for consideration.
Referendum could spare
massive library cuts
Since the summer, advocates have rallied in support of the Rockford Public Library after it was learned the city would pull its financial support, estimated to be $683,000 toward library pensions for 2010, in an effort to get its own house in order as revenues continue to decline.
Rachel León and Emily Klonicki have been among the most outspoken in the fight to stop the proposed funding cuts. Nov. 2, the pair reminded aldermen the library is far more than just a building full of books, and that in times of recession, people depend on the library the most.
León encouraged aldermen to heed the wishes of 2,000 people who signed a petition against the cuts, and asked the council to vote against the present proposal.
“You can propose a more moderate solution,” she said. “We understand the devastating financial problems our city faces. And yet, in spite of the fact that so many of Rockford’s citizens are unemployed, members of city council voted to raise water rates and the garbage tax without input from the citizens who will be affected by this rate increase.”
City Finance Director Andres Sammul noted the library’s tax levy rate is capped where it sits at 32 cents.
“They would need to go to referendum to gain additional levy authority,” he explained, and that’s what León and Klonicki appear to be pushing for.
“You owe it to the citizens of Rockford to at least vote on whether they are willing to pay an increase to the library portion of the tax revenue,” León asserted. “The rates haven’t been raised in over 20 years. …This means the library is operating in the 21st century on a budget fit for the 1980s.”
She added: “It is not understandable or acceptable to make complete and permanent cuts to a vital cornerstone of our city. In fact, it’s irresponsible and reckless.”
Klonicki described the library as a “seat of culture,” adding, “The library is also a staunch protector of civil liberties and intellectual freedom—a crucial institution to democracy and free society.
“It’s a sad situation when our city government can proclaim the great attributes of the library during good times, and then turn around and sideline and cut when times are tough,” she said.
Contrary to what they’ve been told, León and Klonicki argued the hands of aldermen are not tied in the matter, and that comparably sized Illinois communities with similar budget challenges have not resorted to such drastic library cuts.
“I don’t think I’m alone in being tired of hearing about what my city leaders can’t do,” Klonicki argued. “I want to hear about what you can do. Rockford citizens pay premium prices through taxes and utilities that are going up, and get mediocre public services in return. Now, you want to charge more, and cut more service. I don’t buy the argument that this is an issue of badges versus books.
“Don’t insult me and my fellow citizens by telling us that police and fire pensions alone choke out our budget in Rockford at the expense of my services,” she continued. “Is it so much to ask that we citizens of Rockford, who work hard and pay taxes, can expect a decent quality of service in return? It’s an outrage that I even have to be here defending the library, because we all know what it is to our community.”
Aldermen approved an agreement with the Illinois Department of Transportation for the acquisition of property along West State Street, between Kent Creek and Independence Avenue, to make way for long-awaited corridor improvements.
The council also resolved to proceed with plans to issue up to $15 million in general obligation refunding bonds to reduce interest and principal costs associated with previously-issued bonds.
Aldermen unanimously gave final approval to restructure the council’s Legislative & Lobbying Committee from six to five members. The committee will consist of Democratic and Republican caucus chairmen, or their designees, and three other aldermen. Chairmanship and majority of the committee will alternate between parties each year. Ald. Linda McNeely (D-13) voted “no.”
Committee reports passed
• Recommending Spring Creek Road, between Shaw Woods Drive and Mulford Road, receive the honorary name Sgt. Blake W. Evans Road. Evans was killed in 2008 while on duty in Iraq when the vehicle he was riding in was destroyed by a roadside bomb.
• Recommending Winnebago County Board Chairman Scott Christiansen’s (R) company, low-bidder Christiansen, Inc., be awarded a $36,220 bid for roof replacement of a city well house.
• Recommending approval of a supplemental agreement for aircraft rescue and firefighting service with the Greater Rockford Airport Authority.
• Recommending approval of a request by Trinity Lutheran Church for tax-exempt bond refinancing in an amount up to $3.5 million.
• Recommending an amendment to the city’s Nuisance Noise and Operation of Certain Vehicles Code to allow police to impound all-terrain vehicles illegally driven on city streets. Ald. McNeely voted “no.”
• Recommending the sale of two vacant city-owned lots at 612 and 618 Eighth St. for a minimum of $2,800.
• Recommending approval of the 2010-2014 Consolidated Plan, which outlines expenditures of community development block grants, as well as U.S. Department of Housing & Urban Development and emergency shelter grants. Ald. McNeely voted “no.”
From the November 4-10, 2009 issue
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