Guest Column: The other side of the Joint Task Force — what is publicly available

By Nichole Larison Sammon
Fox Ridge Subdivision resident

In June 2010, Winnebago County Board Chairman Scott Christiansen (R) and Rockford Mayor Larry Morrissey (I) announced they would form the Joint Task Force on Intergovernmental Efficiency. The chairman of the Joint Task Force was named John Holmstrom, a William Charles associate.

The “mission,” as released by the task force, was to “identify, evaluate, and support cooperative practices among local units of government that result in lower costs, added value, or improved services”; a noble mission, one any government, local or otherwise, should advocate for and accomplish.

In reading this mission, one disconcerting thought came to mind: our own elected officials admitted they themselves were not capable nor did they have the time for such an undertaking.

Is it not part of the chairman’s and mayor’s job responsibilities to identify ways to lower costs, add value, and improve services for the county and city? Did the chairman and mayor, in fact, OUTSOURCE their positions to William Charles?

What credentials, diplomas and experiences made Holmstrom the right man for this position? He certainly was not elected for this position. The press release from the two governments was silent regarding this question.

In trying to understand the complexities behind why this task force must exist in the first place, we went to the county administration building asking for the agendas and meeting minutes for the past year-and-a-half. After all, the meetings were held on Christiansen’s office floor, room 510, at 4 p.m.

After filling out the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) form with the Winnebago County Clerk’s office, we were told the county had no record of any meeting minutes for the Joint Task Force. This did not make sense. By law, the Open Meetings Act, all county meetings open or closed to the public must have meeting minutes taken and available to the public for review. How could 26 meetings take place five floors up, where meeting minutes were apparently created and approved per the agendas, not be in the public record? Did someone take them out of the building? Were they lost or destroyed? Or, worse yet, were they never created in the first place?

When we pushed to have this fact in writing and contacted the Illinois attorney general concerning the missing documents, the county managed to locate some meeting minutes and hand them over. The largest time frame missing in the records, August 2011 through December 2011, was the exact time frame William Charles’ division William Charles Construction filed for and secured a special-use permit for an asphalt plan in the East State Street Quarry.

To put this in perspective, a Joint Task Force on Government Efficiency, run by one of the head individuals at William Charles, looked into Winnebago County personnel, budgets and resources. This group had the ability to understand every dollar spent and available in the county’s coffers. They could make recommendations about how to “better” spend those dollars, how to “better” reorganize our county government, and the records of the meetings is spotty, at best.

This not only violates the Open Meetings Act, it violates the following oath of office Christiansen took in becoming chairman of the Winnebago County Board: “I do solemnly swear (affirm) that I will support the Constitution of the United States, and the Constitution of the State of Illinois, and that I will faithfully discharge the duties of the office of chairman to the best of my ability.”

It is the chairman’s duty to follow the constitution of the State of Illinois and any amendment to that constitution. It is the chairman’s duty to manage the county’s personnel, budget and all county resources. By outsourcing those responsibilities to unelected delegates, delegates known to be connected to special-interest companies in our county, and then failing to maintain mandated public records of such activities, the chairman dishonored his oath of office.

In wondering if the City of Rockford had, in fact, met the basic record-keeping standards of the state, we proceeded to fill out the FOIA form for the City of Rockford’s records of the Joint Task Force.

The City of Rockford’s records only have a few meeting minutes and about 50 e-mails going back and forth between Holmstrom and Morrissey. The most interesting part of the records from the city was, again, the missing records.

The records are solid from formation of the Joint Task Force in March 2010 to July 2011, and then all of a sudden are missing until December 2011. The exact time frame Winnebago County is missing key records of this Joint Task Force.

One must ask, what happened during this time period that is so important to hide from the public eye? Why is it worth violating a state law to protect it from ever seeing the light of day?

In looking into all of the AVAILABLE records from this Joint Task Force, it is hard to tell what could possibly be worth hiding. Christiansen’s own election brochure brags about his Intergovernmental Joint Task Force, listing off numerous accomplishments. The only status report available dated Oct. 24, 2011, however, shows although this group was charged with some far-reaching goals, little was really accomplished or worth putting on a brochure.

In looking into combining the city and county 911 centers, the group states, “a combined 911 center does not appear to be a feasible approach at this time.”

For the 311 center often bragged about, “the issues in the creation of a regional 311 center are: where to put it, what will it cost, and how will it work?”

The group looked into combining the two different Boards of Elections but found “consolidation of the two boards will require state legislation.”

For city and county policing, “after review, it did not appear that there would be significant savings from having the county transport prisoners for the city.”

For a year-and-a-half, this Joint Task Force on Governmental Efficiency has been meeting regularly. They looked deep into the county and city’s processes, personnel, budgets and resources, and have accomplished what?

Christiansen, with the help of the county board, however, has managed to assist William Charles in securing numerous road construction projects throughout the county, another special-use permit for an asphalt plant, and has sponsored a lower host fee agreement along with a landfill expansion.

The year-and-a-half spent assisting and assessing the different governmental agencies was apparently not a total loss for at least a handful of citizens.

The mission of this group was to lower costs, add value and improve services. As a community, we forgot to ask whose costs, whose value and whose services would be addressed.

The Republican primary is March 20. This year, we have a choice. Make sure to mark your calendars.

From the Feb. 22-28, 2012, issue

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