By Frank Schier
Editor & Publisher
Surely, the following statement comes as no surprise to the “common citizen,” sometimes known as the “peasant” in certain circles: We are not all treated equally under the law downtown and in Winnebago County. Downtown is becoming a center for government people, not the people.
Just imagine you are a retail business owner (actually, it’s about six, soon to be seven business owners) on a certain street in Rockford’s central business district and your customers cannot park in front of many businesses on either side of the street in that block because U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) personnel have “You will not get a ‘city coupon’” sticker on their cars. The Rockford offices of the DEA are in a building in this block, and these DEA cars either just sit there, hour after hour, or come and go so often, any open spot is mostly taken. More often than not, at least a third to more than half of all the “public” parking places are taken by law enforcement vehicles. Oh, the FBI is in this building, too.
Now, just imagine this block is recently restored, and city and county officials had loudly and widely declared this block and the following block would increase traffic and build adjacent retail sales because among other things — people could finally park on this street. Durn. Those officials did seem to forget to street this “new retail spirit” when they issued open parking permits to our dear friends in the local DEA office.
I must admit to using “dear friends” in a rather sarcastic way because the particular DEA agents that park in these spaces do not treat business owners as “dear friends” if the business owners dare to question the longevity and frequency of their parking practices.
Around a year ago, I was told “the attitude (arrogance) problem” by several business owners, and I decided to personally ask (quite politely) two of the agents if they could park somewhere else, so customers of the adjacent business could park there.
When I made this request, I had the oddest impression these agents did not like me. In fact, they advanced toward me rather menacingly, until I noted I owned a newspaper, and could they kindly tell me the name of their supervisor. Again, I had the odd impression these officers did not like me at all; and I was rather sure, they were infrequently questioned about the appropriateness of the behavior under any circumstances by any one “common citizen.” I came to this conclusion because they exuded to my “peasantness” (they did not actually say this) — “We are the bad-ass, bust-your-ass, all-powerful DEA, and how dare you question us — you momentarily unhandcuffed and unruly potential pain-in-the-trunk!
“Go ahead! Go talk to my supervisor,” said one agent with complete contempt and dismissiveness.
So, I just trotted right upstairs to their offices and asked for their supervisor. He came out, and he was a very nice man. He said his agents were under a lot of pressure, and he was sure they didn’t mean to be rude. I disagreed with him, and asked if his agents could just park in one of the nearby parking ramps.
He said they could and do, but he had to give them the option of their choice if they were working on a case that required quick access to their vehicles.
Well this incident took place at least a year ago, and not a thing has changed. In fact, most of the business owners in the area have told me it’s now worse.
That, in fact, is the reason for this column. I’m not going to ask the DEA for their comment; they don’t ask us for ours. They just steal our parking places; I wish I could have the parking police arrest THEM — I would. The DEA just steals our retail revenue because our customers can’t park near our business. I wish I could have the Rockford Police Department arrest them for retail theft — I would. In case you haven’t noticed, it’s really hard to get a member of any governmental body arrested. That’s a fact, just look at Randy Olson; he posed as a police chief, asked for government money, and he didn’t get arrested. Fact. More fun facts to come about Mr. Olson, I’m sure.
In fact, little ol’ retail business owners have been ticketed unloading their goods into their business by the parking police because the federal police are taking up all the regular parking spots. No mercy from either end of the legal spectrum here in sparkling downtown Rockford.
Parking that really does sparkle is the new surface lot bounded by West State, Church and Elm streets. When it opened, you could park there. Then, structural problems were reported with the parking deck next to the county administration building on Elm Street.
Now, it’s parking by permit only so the county employees can park there until the other problem is solved, which will take at least a year or so. So, all the new business parking we were excited about — Nada por Nada. Hey, the government needs the space, you retail peasants!
In fact, you’ll have to pay to park there during a BMO Harris Bank Center event, depending on the event $5 to $10. That quick take from Gautum Gupta is finally paying off! But de facto eminent domain is still in force for nearby public parking.
How’s about a compromise, mein furhrers? How’s about putting the DEA in the spaces in a certain alley that are never used by any other permit holders, or that new lot (it’s never full), which are all right out the DEA’s back door?
How’s about opening up the parking in front of the businesses, and just give us 10 spaces for two-hour parking? Is that too much to ask?
Many people asked me when I told them I was writing this column, “Are you nuts!?” They’re afraid it will be like in the movies, and I’ll have a bunch of marijuana planted on me by bad guys. “You’re crazy to mess with the DEA!” my few friends tell me. I reply, the DEA aren’t bad guys; they just have bad parking habits. Other people have bad habits, too. And, well, if we lived in Colorado or Washington where marijuana is now legal, I wouldn’t have to worry about getting soiled, errr, planted. We wouldn’t need that many DEA guys taking up all the parking spots for nothing. I sure would love to save some money and parking spaces, tough guys.
You see, you’re not above the law, or public opinion, and we’re sick of your bullying. You have your job; I have my job. It’s my job to stick up for the little ol’ retailers, peasants just like me; no matter what the cost is to me. I don’t like bullies. Now if only our city and county officials would actually stick up for us just this one time over a relatively very minor issue — but it’s an issue where you can park a truckload of principles.
From the Nov. 14-20, 2012, issue