By Shane Nicholson
Is this going to be remembered as the year Rockford opened the door to any and all federal bodies looking for something to investigate? It’s starting to look like it.
First thing’s first: the City Council on Monday again decided to lay over the decision on the South New Towne plat until their Jan. 4 meeting. That will be the last day of the 60-day-window they have by state law to sign off on the project.
That decision came just minutes after the Council voted 12-0 to approve the hiring of Hinshaw & Culbertson to figure out what the city can do about HUD’s inquiry into the project, and whether or not Rockford has violated the Civil Rights Act by covering New Towne in miles of red tape following delayed vote after delayed vote.
Lawyering up is not the worst idea now given it appears HUD has every intention of opening a full investigation into New Towne. Should we be at this point in the first place? No, but here the city stands, and the 80 minutes of closed session it took to decide that legal representation was a worthwhile venture should give us an idea as to what Jan. 4 will bring for the housing project, even if that opens the floodgates of federal oversight.
• If some rumors swirling turn out to be true that door could swing both ways, as sources have told the Times that HUD is conducting its own internal investigation into parties close to the contentious project. It could be a banner year in 2016 for lawyers thanks to Rockford’s biggest housing story of 2015.
• Of course, the city isn’t the only one taking the heat from the feds these days. County Board Chairman Scott Christiansen is in the crosshairs of the FBI, and fresh off a raid of a downtown storage space that uncovered loads of exercise equipment and furniture it looks like they’re not giving up anytime soon.
The Chairman has carried on business as usual, prepping for a March GOP primary showdown with RVC Board Chairman Frank Haney. But a mailer for Christiansen’s “Holiday Shindig” that went out in advance of his Dec. 2 fundraiser at Giovanni’s may have needed a second look.
A handful of those listed as the 40-some-odd “hosts” of the event have expressed concern at their names being used without permission as backers of the embattled county supremo. It seems they feel business as usual may not be the clear path forward for Winnebago County. The opening weeks of 2016 should let us know if the FBI agrees.
• In happier news, Rockford’s No. 1 band Cheap Trick has finally been given the Hall of Fame nod and is ready for induction next April at a ceremony in New York. A big congrats to the boys bringing some good national news to the area to close out 2015!