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Aldermen support exile of public speaker
By Stuart R. Wahlin
In an 11-2 vote Aug. 2, Rockford aldermen ratified a notice of trespass issued to frequent public speaker Jim Buckingham at the request of Mayor Larry Morrissey (I), who said he felt Buckingham physically threatened him during comments to council members July 12. (See “Silenced—public speaker barred from City Hall” in the July 21-27 issue).
During his July 12 remarks, Morrissey has noted, Buckingham referred to his military training and oath to defend against foreign and domestic enemies, while also asserting the mayor had been placed on his “domestic enemies list.” Buckingham denies that his words were intended to be a threat, but he was served a notice of trespass July 19, indicating he could be charged with a misdemeanor if he sets foot on City Hall property during a one-year period from the date of his comments.
While talking with WNTA’s Ken Decoster after the incident, Buckingham’s interview quickly came to an end after Decoster asked him to clarify the term “domestic enemies list.” Reportedly, Buckingham was promptly removed from the air when he tried to respond, “What do you want me to call it, a s–t list?”
Although Morrissey said the notice was already legally enforceable on its own, he and Legal Director Patrick Hayes indicated ratification by aldermen would strengthen the banishment. Some aldermen, however, were not ready to support the measure July 19, and the matter was referred to committee, only to return to the council floor Aug. 2.
Ald. Linda McNeely (D-13), for one, did not interpret any of Buckingham’s statements to have been said in a threatening manner, however. Instead, she alleged the notice of trespass was nothing more than retribution for Buckingham’s critiques of the mayor.
“I don’t think that’s what we’re here for,” McNeely told Morrissey. “I don’t think we’re supposed to use [our elected offices] for our anger. I think we’re supposed to use it for the good of this city, for the good of the residents of this city. And at no point did I think Mr. Buckingham was going to do anything to you.”
McNeely also noted that the state’s attorney’s office did not believe criminal charges were warranted under a state law related to threats against public officials, which Morrissey had cited previously.
But McNeely, who is often at odds with the mayor, was not alone in opposing the notice of trespass. Although she acknowledged having felt “a little bit nervous” during Buckingham’s comments, Ald. Karen Elyea (D-11) said she reviewed a written transcript of the remarks and decided there was no threat made, especially after the state’s attorney determined there was no criminal misconduct.
“I, as a council member, am not comfortable abridging his First Amendment freedom of speech here with this,” she said.
Ald. Ann Thompson-Kelly (D-7) disagreed, adding she felt Buckingham’s comment was a threat.
“If any constituents come and take that type of manner with me, the only thing I’m gonna be asking is, ‘Officer, why don’t you have him in cuffs, out of here?’” she responded. “This is not something that should be tolerated by anyone in a public forum. We’re here to serve our community, and to listen to our constituents. That doesn’t mean we should be abused. I feel he did abuse by his manner, his tone, his gesture.”
Ald. Venita Hervey (D-5) noted that times have changed in the age of terror, adding that such comments simply cannot be brushed off.
“People try to make their comments as veiled as they possibly can,” she said. “That tells you that a person is trying to go as far up to the line as they can without going over.”
Hervey indicated she believes Buckingham did cross the line, adding: “Twenty-five years ago, I would have said, ‘Nah, that’s a little thin-skinned.’ That was before we had people killing federal judges. It’s before we had people placing bombs in federal government buildings, and killing children in daycares and innocent people who were working, because they have some perceived grievance against the government.”
In the end, only McNeely and Elyea voted against supporting the notice of trespass.
Buckingham, who has since taken his message to the sidewalks outside of City Hall during council meetings, said he was not surprised by the vote.
“It’s not over with yet,” he asserted, hoisting an American flag in the air as he demonstrated outside the city’s capitol building. “After what I’ve seen in there, it doesn’t even faze me.”
Buckingham reported a legal fund has been established in his name through Chase Bank, and that he plans to challenge the action taken against him.
→ Awarding a $222,857.94 bid to Norwest Construction, of South Beloit, for reconstruction of Chicago Avenue.
→ Awarding an $82,112 bid to Stenstrom Excavation for reconstruction of an alley between East State and Walnut streets.
Dan Ross was appointed to a three-year term, expiring July 2013, on the Library Board.
Rockford Tea Party Coordinator David Hale urged aldermen to adopt a non-binding resolution demanding that the federal government cut taxes and spending by downsizing to only provide the essential services it is required to. He argued government is not intended to be a philanthropic organization.
Neighborhood Network Executive Director Cyndie Hall urged the community to take part in the Community Garden Veggie Tour being held at 16 sites throughout the area Aug. 7, from 9 a.m. until 1 p.m.
Sharon Wegler, a site coordinator for the Ellis Heights Weed & Seed program, urged donations and participation in the Tools for Schools Pencils in the Park event Aug. 14, from noon until 4 p.m. at Fairgrounds Park, to provide school supplies for needy children.
Community activist Prophet Yusef argued that innovation is the best way for the country to create sustainable jobs. He also suggested tax breaks for companies involved in research and development. “Without innovation, there is no economic recovery in sight,” he added.
Aug. 3 was proclaimed National Night Out. Aug. 14 was proclaimed Tools for Schools Pencils in the Park Day.
Ald. Frank Beach (R-10) was absent.
From the Aug. 4-10, 2010 issue