Guest Commentary: Reshape Rockford with a proven structure
By Rudy Valdez
Rockford residents have great ideas to combat the problems that have hindered our city. Over the years, many city leaders have attempted to capture the best from our community and integrate the ideas into policy and strategies for a better Rockford.
Regrettably, partisan political agendas, organizational structure, and financial incentives have impeded the goal of being a sought-after city with low crime, good-paying jobs, economic growth, excellent schools, vibrant neighborhoods and low taxes.
Real change requires real plans. We have an opportunity to reshape Rockford and minimize obstacles for success with a three-step plan that focuses on professionalism versus politics and frees up taxpayer dollars to go directly toward services such as filling potholes and reducing crime.
First, we should prepare a referendum to change Rockford’s form of government from a mayor-council to a council-manager, a proven structure used in nearly 60 percent of U.S. cities with populations over 100,000, including Naperville and Peoria here in Illinois, and others like Austin, Phoenix, San Jose and Charlotte.
Rockford’s current mayor-council form of government creates an imbalance of power that oftentimes results in poor communication and lack of trust, impacting decision-making from the entire elected body. In mayor-council governments, the mayor is the only elected official with hiring powers, budgetary authority, additional legislative powers and is responsible for day-to-day operations.
A council-manager structure is known as the “professional” form of government because it provides a separation of powers and greater accountability. The entire governing body, comprised of the city council and mayor, has equal authority and power to set policy for Rockford’s long-range vision. A highly trained, non-partisan professional manager is hired to carry out the established policies. The manager is accountable to the entire governing body elected by the people of Rockford; not just the mayor as it stands today.
Second, we can focus more on the needs of our community by changing the elections of mayor and aldermen to a non-partisan process. The people who serve our community should be elected based on factors other than political allegiance. Too often, party politics gets in the way of making informed decisions for the greatest good of our community. We need a process that creates a community-mentality rather than one that creates silos.
The third step of the plan aligns the city council’s compensated positions with the non-compensated positions of elected officials in Rockford’s other taxing districts, Rock Valley College and RPS 205.
While Rockford’s 14 aldermen work very hard for our community, they each receive an annual salary, fully-funded health care package and a pension. There is at least one alderman that does not accept benefits and gives away his salary. Conversely, the seven-member, non-partisan RVC trustees and the seven-member, non-partisan RPS 205 board members are responsible for areas larger than the City of Rockford, yet do not receive salary or benefits.
Eliminating the salary and benefits for the 14 aldermen, as well as restructuring the mayor’s position from full-time to part-time, will save the tax payers up to $600,000 per year, not including the savings from medical bills since the city has a self-funded health plan. It’s time to put money back into city services and create an environment that puts servant leadership first.
This three-step plan provides real solutions to help us achieve our potential. Efficient and transparent governance with minimized political agendas will only help our city enrich our neighborhoods, reduce crime, create a business-friendly environment and educated workforce prepared for job opportunities.
Let us reshape Rockford by starting with leadership that sets a positive example for the rest of the community.
Rudy Valdez is an independent candidate for mayor in the April 4 consolidated election.