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Rockford Citizens Group Launches Campaign To Return The City To Home Rule Status

Jenna Dooley
Bobbie Holzwarth, Mayor Tom McNamara, Rudy Valdez, and Bill Gorski discuss the home rule campaign

Rockford’s mayor is supporting an effort to return the city to home rule status.

Here’s an example: Since Rockford is not a home rule city, leaders can charge up to $50 in license fees for  video gaming in the city, and there are a lot. Home rule communities can charge into the thousands of dollars. That’s why some critics argue home rule can unfairly target business owners who may absorb extra taxes and fees.

There are just over 200 home rule communities in the state covering areas with larger populations. There are other efforts to increase that number.

Rockford voters ditched their home rule status in 1983 fearing that more costs would be shifted to them.

But Rockford Mayor Tom McNamara says the measure gives voters more direct say in how local money is collected and spent.

“Quite honestly, I will say this to anyone: ‘Vote for Home Rule. If I misuse it as a mayor, or if you believe that I misuse it, vote me out, but keep the tool that will help move our community forward.’”

He says voters don’t have the same power to vote out the House Speaker or Senate President.

Bill Gorski is a co-chair of the campaign and the retired CEO of SwedishAmerican Health System.

“Since we haven’t had it, how’s it benefited us?" Gorski asked. "Is Rockford a better community today in 2017 because we haven’t had Home Rule since 1983? I have been here all of that time and I could not articulate that for you. So it is our job, and the reason why we are so together on this is to hopefully engage that trust with people through transparency and education.”

Bobbie Holzwarth is a partner with the Holmstrom & Kennedy Law Firm and also a co-chair for the effort.

“We, not Springfield, will be able to determine how best to live within our means and to provide the services that our citizens want," Holzwarth said.

Rudy Valdez, a former mayoral candidate and currently with Kaney Aerospace, says the timing is right to educate the public about the advantages of home rule status.

“We should have the community with the voice to decide if ‘Yes, we want it,’ or ‘No, we don’t.’ Right now, there is no choice and there hasn’t been a choice in 35 years.”

Next steps:

The City Council is being asked to place the item on the ballot for the March 20, 2018 primary election in the city of Rockford

Monday, Nov. 20, 2017: Measure is referred to City Council Committee

Monday, Nov. 27, 2017: Measure could be considered at Committee

Tuesday, Jan. 2, 2018: Regular City Council meeting and the last day that the measure can be passed to be placed on the spring ballot

Jenna Dooley has spent her professional career in public radio. She is a graduate of Northern Illinois University and the Public Affairs Reporting Program at the University of Illinois - Springfield. She returned to Northern Public Radio in DeKalb after several years hosting Morning Edition at WUIS-FM in Springfield. She is a former "Newsfinder of the Year" from the Illinois Associated Press and recipient of NIU's Donald R. Grubb Journalism Alumni Award. She is an active member of the Illinois News Broadcasters Association and an adjunct instructor at NIU.