Big Business Payoffs Bring Few Results

By Michael Kleen ~ Published August 21, 2013 at the Rock River Times

govtspendingOn the third anniversary of the Wanxiang solar panel factory opening south of the Rockford airport, Channel 23 News began its story with a sobering fact. “It’s been nearly three years since a solar panel manufacturer opened its doors in the Forest City, a facility that was supposed to bring hundreds of jobs.” In reality, they reported, the plant has only 13 employees. After the segment, newscaster Tina Stein turned to her partner and remarked, “Quite a difference from what was originally promised.”

In exchange for receiving at least $1.2 million dollars in tax increment financing (TIF) funds, $4 million in state grants, 10 acres of land (worth $650,000), and guaranteed government contracts, Wanxiang was supposed to employ 60 people in its first phase alone. “This is the perfect example of how the city and county came together to create jobs,” Winnebago County Chairman Scott Christiansen said in August 2010. Today, the solar panel manufacturing center is barely operational.

Wanxiang Group is China’s second-largest privately held company, with revenues in the billions of dollars annually. Its founder, Lu Guanqiu, is the 33rd richest person in China, with a net worth of more than $1.87 billion. Did Wanxiang really need a few million dollars in public funds to open a factory in Winnebago County?

Continue reading “Big Business Payoffs Bring Few Results”

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JG-TC Announces Tales of Coles County Release

Tales of Coles County X10th Anniversary Edition of ‘Tales of Coles County’ is Out
JG-TC.com
August 12, 2013

CHARLESTON — The 10th anniversary edition of Tales of Coles County, Illinois has been released. Long before TV stations like SyFy and the Travel Channel took an interest in the area, Michael Kleen was researching and writing about remarkable episodes from the county’s past.

With a blend of fact and fiction, Tales of Coles County is a unique look at the history and places that make Coles County such an interesting place to visit…

With everything from haunted houses, to the Mad Gasser of Mattoon, ghost towns, and buried treasure, this book will leave no stone unturned. The new edition will include four new places not appearing in any previous edition, as well as nearly a dozen photos. [More…]

Federal Audit Exposes Stimulus Fund Abuse

By Michael Kleen ~ Published August 7, 2013 at the Rock River Times

unclesammoneyhatCongress passed the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 in order to use Federal funds to stimulate the US economy, which had tumbled into severe recession. That February, the US unemployment rate hit 8.3 percent. The unemployment rate in Rockford was 14.1 percent in January 2009 and peaked at 20.3 percent in January 2010.

The Federal stimulus package provided $1 billion to the Community Services Black Grant Program for two years, ending on September 30, 2010. The stated purpose of this fund was to reduce poverty, revitalize low-income communities, and help low-income Americans. This would be done by providing services addressing employment education, better use of available income, housing, nutrition, and health.

The State of Illinois awarded Rockford’s Human Services Department $1,062,800 out of this fund. The Office of Inspector General of the US Health and Human Services Department later conducted an audit of how 56 percent (roughly $599,000) of that amount was spent in Rockford and determined that a hair more than one third of the audited funds were unallowable under the Recovery Act. A further $141,796 was deemed “potentially unallowable.” So the audit determined that fully 58 percent of the funds they examined were either unallowable or potentially unallowable.

The unallowable costs included $123,530 that was inadequately documented, $72,669 charged outside the award period, and $9,097 in entertainment expenses. The entertainment expenses included $8,717 for movie theater rental and $380 for paintballing. When the State of Illinois reviewed Rockford’s Recovery Act legers, it found that $6,615 in unused movie tickets was returned to the fund and therefore should have been allowable, but that information did not cause the Inspector General’s office to revise its findings.

Continue reading “Federal Audit Exposes Stimulus Fund Abuse”

Watershed Moment for Rock Valley College Free Speech Lawsuit

By Michael Kleen ~ Published July 24, 2013 at the Rock River Times

Free speechIn the fall of 2012, Dominic Celletti, a criminal justice student at Rock Valley College (RVC), filed suit in Federal court against RVC President Jack Becherer, Student Life Manager Quiana Preston, and the Board of Trustees. Celletti alleged that RVC infringed on his freedom of speech with burdensome and arbitrary policy restrictions concerning campus bulletin boards. In April of this year, Judge Philip Reinhard granted a motion to dismiss the case and gave Celletti the opportunity to file an amended complaint, which he did on July 15th.

The suit stemmed from an incident in the fall of 2011. On September 2, 2011, Celletti approached staff at the Student Life Center about his ability to post flyers urging students to get involved in civil rights issues around campus. The flyer was a simple design featuring a call for students to read the U.S. Constitution and a “Don’t Tread on Me” flag, with Dominic’s phone number.

When Celletti inquired about posting the flyers, he was told that he was not allowed to post on campus bulletin boards because he was not a member of a campus club. As a non-affiliated student, he could be given access to one “free” and one “event” board in the Student Center Building.

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Latinos’ Increasing Role in Local Politics Good for the Community

By Michael Kleen ~ Published July 10, 2013 at the Rock River Times

Hispanic PatriotSoon after the election in April, Register Star reporter Isaac Guerrero asked in his blog, “When will Rockford Latinos exercise political power?” After all, he reasoned, the number of Latinos/Hispanics in Rockford grew nearly 58 percent between 2000 and 2010, while in the same period the non-Hispanic white population declined 9 percent. There are no less than two Spanish language newspapers in Rockford, and Hispanics are opening new businesses at an encouraging rate.

In all fairness, there has been some political activity among Latinos in Rockford and Winnebago County in recent years, and not all on the Democratic side of the aisle. Of the four current officeholders of Hispanic decent who live in Winnebago County (Julio Salgado, John Guevara, John Cabello, and Arnie Cabello) three were elected as Republicans.

Still, many local Hispanic candidates have found it difficult to obtain the financial and political support they need to get elected to public office. While many see Rockford’s Hispanics and Latinos as a minority group, I prefer to think of them as part of a silent majority that is largely shut out of the political process. It is a process in which candidates are frequently asked to step aside by their party or are passed over by big contributors because they are not in the correct social circles, live in the right neighborhoods, or work for the right companies.

Continue reading “Latinos’ Increasing Role in Local Politics Good for the Community”

“Writer Has Touch to Hold Interest”

I would like to thank Katherine McGee-Overstreet of Charleston, Illinois for this wonderful letter to the editor in the Journal Gazette/Times Courier. I published a couple of Katherine’s photos in my old quarterly magazine, Black Oak Presents. She is a talented and wonderful human being and I appreciate her support and encouragement.

LETTER: Writer has touch to hold interest

By Katherine McGee-Overstreet

In today’s culture, we surround ourselves with outused ideas. We polish them and call them unique. Being a lover of the arts, both film and literature, it saddens me to read these overused ideas again and again.

Thankfully roughly eight or so years ago I stumbled across this amazing set of stories and articles related to our own history here in Coles County. The author amazed me something fierce, his stories were very well written and kept my interest even after many years of shoving my face into numerous books.

One of my favorites, Tales of Coles County, is coming out as a tenth anniversary edition this upcoming August. Michael Kleen is an amazing writer of sorts, he studied at our own E.I.U. and became something of a local historian for our good county.

Click this link to read the entire letter!

Interview with the Rockford Blog

This week, I had the opportunity to sit down with Heath Alberts from Digital Ninjas Media for an interview. You can find the interview at The Rockford Blog, a popular Rockford, Illinois blog covering local initiatives and Rockford’s community. We discuss everything from what it’s like to be an author to what I would change about Rockford if I had the chance. Click the link below to read the full interview.

Rockford’s Own: Michael Kleen (Author & Political Activist)