Barking dog debate laid over, motion to dismiss complaint against police chief denied

By Jim Hagerty
Staff Writer

Although Rockford aldermen may have a problem concerning a barking guard dog provision on their hands, they chose to lay the matter over Monday night, leaving a squabble to continue between a downtown business owner and neighbors who want his animals kept quiet.

According to an amendment to the city’s barking dog ordinance passed in January, owners of guard dogs are exempt from the law if they can prove their animals are used to protect their properties. That is what Tim Barth says his four German shepherds are doing at his downtown automotive business. More than 60 nearby residents, however, say the dogs do nothing but disrupt the neighborhood. Residents say they aren’t against Barth’s dogs. They have just have had enough of what has been described as incessant barking.

Karolyn Downey is one of Barth’s neighbors near his business at 601. W. Jefferson St. She is one of 61 people who have signed a petition to have the exemption repealed so Barth and other owners would be forced to quiet their dogs. According to Downey, the exemption to the ordinance makes no sense.

“We don’t know for sure how or why the city passed this amendment,” Downey said. “We just know it’s a problem. We have no problems with the dogs, we just want them to stop barking. The city needs to go back to (City of Rockford

Code of Ordinances [Barking Dogs and Animal Noise] ) 4-59. We can then call animal control and dogs would be kept quiet or owners would be fined.”

While Barth could not be reached for immediate comment, he has stated in published reports that he houses the dogs at the former Strandquist Motors building to keep would-be burglars away from an expensive collection of cars stored there. He says their barking has already thwarted a robbery attempt, an attack on his wife and a car theft near his building.

Barth also made news in May, after his 21-year-old son was shot near SwedishAmerican hospital and a private ambulance took more than 30 minutes to reach him. He later died.

Aldermen are expected to discuss removing the guard dog exemption next week.

In other city news, the seven-year feud between the local police union and Rockford Police Chief Chet Epperson heated up this week, as the Board of Fire and Police Commissioners rejected the chief’s motion to dismiss allegations that he interfered with a welfare check involving NAACP President Lloyd Johnston last fall. Epperson is expected to testify in front of the board next month to defend the complaint. The city has also been ordered to turn over several redacted documents and officer reports relating to the incident.

Last Oct. 30, Johnston refused to let Rockford Police officers into his home to conduct a welfare check on his son, who was reportedly involved in a domestic dispute. Instead, Johnston called Epperson’s cellphone and told the chief officers would not tell him why they were there. Officers at the scene say they heard Epperson via speakerphone tell Johnston, “Don’t let them into the house and tell them to leave,’” a claim Johnston and Epperson deny.

Rockford and Loves Park residents will soon be paying nearly 60 percent more for electricity. The rate hike comes with a new electric aggregation agreement signed with Baltimore-based Constellation. Starting in September, Rockford and Loves Park residents and small businesses will pay 7.37 cents per kilowatt hour through 2016. Residents are now paying 4.66 cents per kilowatt hour, a rate locked in with FirstEnergy Solutions in 2012.

The new negotiated rate of 7.37 cents is lower than ComEd’s current rate of 7.59 per kilowatt hour. The increase is expected to be around $20 per month and will be reflected on October electric bills.

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