Progress On Cooperation Is Slow

Jun 20, 2013

From left: Ald. Frank Beach, John Sweeney, Ald. Karen Elyea, Ald. Tom McNamara, Ald. Ann Thompson-Kelley

Last month, elected officials from Rockford and Winnebago County gathered in hopes of improving cooperation between the city and the county. The sense of urgency from the meeting has dwindled with little action taken since.

“We have one community to serve together, and we need to continue to have dialogue,” Ald. Frank Beach, chair of the City Council Republican caucus, said.

In recent discussions, caucus chairmen from the county board and city council have been trying to figure out the best ultimate option moving forward. Setting up committees to address specific problems such as high crime and economic development is in the works.

“The meetings in the past were good, and now it’s time to build on that steam,” Winnebago County Board member John Sweeney, chair of the Republican caucus, said. “The political leaders of each committee will be the newly created channels of communication.”

Ald. Karen Elyea, chair of the City Council Democratic caucus, said in an email to WNIJ, “Our legal attorneys are advising that work be done through existing committee structure with the open meetings act in mind.”

What specific issues each committee will address, and who will be in them, has yet to be determined.

Even though nothing has been enacted yet, there are indicators of progress with the caucus chairmen discussing the initial steps. Elyea also said there are no referrals for action on the city side at this time.

The sheer number of people in city council and the surrounding municipalities make getting on the same page a difficult task. “With 35 officials, it is hard to get things done -- but that’s why we ran,” Ald. Thomas McNamara, D-3, said. “It’s going to be a tough process, but we weren’t elected to take the easy route.”

Despite the optimism, Mayor Larry Morrissey and Winnebago County Board Chairman Scott Christiansen have a track record of disagreement.  This has resulted in separate programs backed by the city and county to deal with prisoner re-entry to the community and police drug enforcement. There are even two 911 call centers.

Ald. Ann Thompson-Kelley, D-7, feels that there is progress despite the recent disagreements. “The personality differences between them is giving the impression that there is no communication happening," she said, "which is just not true.”

As of Thursday, no new meetings are scheduled.