By Brian Jenkins Leggero
While a lack of communication did not cut down trees at area forest preserves, a lack of competence sure did!
I have been sitting silent (those who know me know that is a tough thing for me to do), and I can no longer do so regarding this issue with the Winnebago County Forest Preserve District (WCFPD) Board of Commissioners and the deforestation program.
When our county board voted for and our state legislators passed an amendment to the Illinois Downstate Forest Preserve Act to separate the governance of our forest preserves to a separate body, I, like many others, was so excited about it and thought of the great promise this could have. Our forest preserves would be governed by a smaller, separate body than our county board. I thought this would bring and have so much promise and could remove the cronyism, political wrangling, backroom deals, influence peddlers and special interests grip on our government that has led our government and State of Illinois to surpass the State of Louisiana as the most corrupt state in the United States.
I was so excited about this separation of governing that I decided to step up and run for one of the seven seats of the new board in 2010. I was also excited and surprised there were 34 others willing to do the exact same thing.
Seven of the 35 candidates garnered enough votes to start this first-in-Winnebago County “independent” board. Myself, as well as 27 others, fell short of the votes needed to be elected onto this new board.
So now, we have had the new board for more than a year, and under their “leadership,” three of our forest preserves are out a total of more than 5,524 trees — and counting.
The new board voted almost unanimously, with one abstaining vote by Jay Ferraro, who was stepping down that evening and abstained from all votes that night. Ferraro had to step down because not too long after taking office, he moved from Winnebago County to Moline, and commissioners are required by law to live in the county they represent.
When I heard more than 5,524 trees, not all pines and not all old, were cut down from just three of our forest preserves and I saw the pictures as well as drove out to the locations where the mutilation and deforestation occurred, it brought a tear to my eye. I thought to myself, “What were they thinking?” (with a couple of words omitted for this article).
Do any of the board members go into our forest preserves? Do any of the board members know anything about wildlife management? Do any of the board members know that the greatest threat to wildlife today is habitat loss? Do any of the board members know what habitat is and what four things make a good habitat? Did any of the board members get off their butts and drive out to the locations where the deforestation was going to occur and look it over, talk to people — especially the neighbors — before voting to remove more than 5,524 trees? Do the board members know the difference between conservation and preservation? As a result of seeing how they voted and the end result, I would have to conclude “NO” would be the answer to all of my questions raised here.
Well, I have good news for all of us Winnebago County citizens. There is hope for us on the horizon, and it is called democracy. This Nov. 6, we can stand together united and make a difference. Three of the seven seats are up for election, and we can vote close to half of the seven current board members out of office. We can choose to vote new, fresh candidates in who are forward thinkers, with fresh ideas and people who really care about our forest preserves and their flora and fauna. Candidates who will stand by the WCFPD’s mission!
Two of the seats are up for six-year terms and are held by Cheryl Maggio and Audrey Johnson, and one is up for a two-year term (the seat vacated by Ferraro that an appointment process and vote was taken for). Lee Johnson was the person appointed to the two-year term seat. I wonder who will take his place at the Sand Bluff Bird Banding Station. Also, the term of the first president of the board, Randal Olson, will expire in January 2013.
Olson was a long-standing Winnebago County Board member and the person who pushed and put together the 18-acre Gasparini land purchase for $216,000 out of operating funds that the board had to refinance bonds to replenish.
Comparison shows how bad that deal was; WCFPD purchased 80 acres adjacent to Deer Run Forest Preserve for $374,000.
The decision to complete the Gasparini purchase has had so many citizens strongly against it and in an uproar. The newly-elected three members Nov. 6 and one of the existing members can vote a different commissioner in as president of the board. Imagine the difference that will make! No more cronyism, hopefully.
A potential conflict of interest exists on the board. The Downstate Forest Preserve Act clearly states “Neither a commissioner nor the President of the Board of Commissioners shall serve simultaneously in any other elective or appointed office in the County.” WCFPD Commissioner Judith Barnard is and has been secretary/treasurer of the Winnebago County Soil and Water Conservation District, an elective office, and that situation needs to be addressed as soon as possible.
Then, there is the controversial issue of whether hunting should be allowed in our forest preserves as opposed to paying “so-called” sharp shooters to cull the deer herd at taxpayers’ expense. People would certainly pay to take part in the wildlife management, and that would help generate funds into the forest preserve district. My main, strong concern and knowledge with regard to this is safety, safety and safety for all.
Winnebago County voters, this is our chance to make a major difference and put a stop to the deforestation and some of the terrible decisions being made by this first board of commissioners of our Winnebago County Forest Preserve District. We cannot bring the trees that were cut down back; it will take decades to repair the damage. We can certainly plant the seeds for new trees and plant the seeds for new, fresh ideas so our Winnebago County forest preserves can continue and thrive.
I was born and raised right here in Winnebago County and do not like some of the things I have seen happening. Therefore, I have made a decision to speak out, as well as run once again for the WCFPD Board of Commissioners. I will be running for the two-year term and seat that the appointment of Johnson — and not the voice of the people — filled.
This transfiguration of the WCFPD Board will take a lot more than just one person to accomplish. Quite a few people say to me, “Brian, you are only one person, how do you think you can change things?” I say to them that I will need help from other like-minded individuals being elected to the board who want to make a positive difference as well. I will research the other candidates and get the information out about them as well.
Anyone wishing to join me in this effort can contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org or look me up and friend me on Facebook, so we can get this turned around and headed in the right direction.
If voters decide to keep the existing board members in office, then we have no one to blame for the board’s decisions other than ourselves!
Rockford resident Brian Jenkins Leggero was a candidate for the WCFPD Board of Commissioners in November 2010 and also applied for the WCFPD Board seat recently vacated by Jay Ferraro. Lee Johnson, former director of Rockford’s Burpee Museum of Natural History, was selected for the seat.
From the Feb. 15-21, 2012, issue