Guest Column: Enforcement of public ordinances needed to stop violators

By Tim Hughes

Jackie Gonzalez’s letter in your June 23 issue regarding the trashing of Millennium Fountain reminded me of when I spoke a few years ago during the public input portion of a city council meeting in which I complained about the same thing. As I left the podium, the police officer on duty stopped me to say I was right about the deplorable conditions at the fountain, adding, “I went by the other day and couldn’t believe the mess people were making of the place.” I stood there a moment, not believing what I had just heard. If the officer saw such conditions, why didn’t he use the authority invested in him by the city ordinance posted at the fountain to arrest the offenders?

I suspect he didn’t because city officials for various reasons don’t want to offend the violators. This in itself is deplorable.

The fountain and the area behind the back parking lot at the library are public eyesores, and in the case of the latter, the scene of criminal activity, some quite violent.

Such places should be civic spaces where one can take one’s family and enjoy those areas for their intended purpose. But a family picnic behind the library depends on finding a picnic table on which some derelict isn’t sleeping off a hangover. The area is a grassless, liquor bottle-strewn, cigarette butt-layered, geese droppings-smeared wasteland. I once noticed the unmistakable aroma of marijuana fumes wafting through the air there, but couldn’t prevail on a passing police officer to investigate.

These areas should be for the pleasure and enjoyment of Rockford’s citizenry. Those who trash public property and refuse to respect the rights of others shouldn’t be the ones setting standards for what the city’s quality of life will be.

So here’s a suggestion. Let’s kill, as the old saying goes, two birds with one stone. Since the city is desperately short of needed cash, let’s start enforcing city ordinances that carry a fine. In the case of the Millennium Fountain, fines ranging up to $500 can be imposed for wading, bathing or climbing on the structure.

Well, heck! In that case, the city could make a small fortune each day and night of the week during the summer months by arresting violators and fining them accordingly. Instead of calling one alderman as Ms. Gonzalez suggests, why not call all our aldermen and alderwomen and ask them why they continue overlooking this source of income for the city? Their answers might be revealing.

Tim Hughes is a former teacher in Rockford School District 205 who coached debate and taught English at Auburn High School for 20 years. At Auburn, he coached three debate teams to first-place national championships.

From the July 6-12, 2011, issue

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