Aggressive Panhandling Plagues Rockford

By Michael Kleen ~ Published June 26, 2013 at the Rock River Times

18_3-sm“Excuse me,” a large man said in a loud, demanding voice as I stood in line at my church’s pancake breakfast this past Sunday. The man pulled aside an elderly gentleman and I overheard him ask for $20 to get to his daughter’s graduation at the McCormick Place in Chicago.

I cringed. Others tried to interject, but the boisterous man shouted that he was “just talking to my friend.” His “friend” said no. The man continued to insist. So it went for several minutes, until the elderly man relented and gave him $20 just to go away.

A few days later, in a McDonald’s parking lot, another man approached me and asked for money because his ATM card (allegedly) wasn’t working.

This is a daily occurrence in Rockford. We have all seen the men holding signs along State Street or at bus stops. Many of us have been approached on the street in downtown Rockford. Often a simple “no” will suffice. Other times, the beggars are more insistent and follow their target down the street. There is rarely anyone around to help.

All of this is bad for Rockford. Aggressive panhandling has gotten out of control in our city—it chases away customers from business districts, makes us feel uncomfortable or unsafe, and gives Rockford a negative reputation. It is a form of emotional and financial abuse.

Continue reading “Aggressive Panhandling Plagues Rockford”


Excitement for New Edition of Tales of Coles County

Tales of Coles County XI’ve been encouraged by the enthusiastic reception my announcement of a new edition of Tales of Coles County has received. When I started updating the book’s Facebook page again after over a year of inactivity, I never imagined this explosion of popularity. The page has gone from around 120 likes on Wednesday June 13, to 1,516 this afternoon. A picture I posted of Airtight Bridge (Photoshopped to look antique) has been shared 331 times and viewed over 18,000 times. This has to be, by far, the most viral of anything I have ever posted on Facebook.

I decided to send out a press release about this outburst of enthusiasm and it was printed in the Journal Gazette/Times-Courier, which is published in Mattoon and Charleston. That kept the ball rolling.

The book itself is almost finished. I’m just waiting to get a few more pictures and I’ll be able to send it to the printer. In the meantime, I’m going to offer preorders – that will give me a better sense of how much of this enthusiasm is hype and how much is actual interest. I have a good feeling about this, but experience has taught me not to count my chickens before they hatch.

I’m setting an official release date in August, and will be planning several book signings and events. Stay tuned for details!

Tales of Coles County Goes Viral on Facebook

Since announcing the upcoming release of a new edition on Friday, the Facebook page for the book Tales of Coles County, Illinois has gone viral, garnering over 900 new likes in five days. That is an average of 180 new likes per day. The first in a series of antique ‘postcards’ promoting the book, uploaded on Monday, has been shared 175 times and viewed by nearly 9,000 people.

First released in 2004, Tales of Coles County, Illinois follows the journey of four students from Eastern Illinois University who are stranded in an old cabin during a storm. The elderly couple who live there tell the students four stories, each related to Coles County history: a battle with Indians near Blakeman’s Mill, the Charleston Riot, the Coles County Poor Farm, and the body found at Airtight Bridge. After one night, these students will never look at Coles County the same way.

The 10th Anniversary Edition of Tales of Coles County will also feature a section on the legends and lore of Coles County. 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.

What Can Rockford Learn from China?

Li and Larry

By Michael Kleen ~ Published June 12, 2012 at the Rock River Times

Recently, China’s new premier, Li Keqiang, signaled a major policy shift when he announced that his communist government will reduce state intervention in the marketplace and give competition among private businesses a larger role in the economy.

“The market is the creator of social wealth and the wellspring of self-sustaining economic development,” Li said. He argued that reducing government’s role in the economy would unleash his country’s creative energies after a period of slowing economic growth.

It is an encouraging sign that a new generation of Chinese leadership is embracing private enterprise and entrepreneurship as engines of economic growth and prosperity. According to the 2013 Index of Economic Freedom, government spending in China currently accounts for 23.6 percent of their Gross Domestic Product (GDP), as opposed to 41.7 percent in the United States.

Continue reading “What Can Rockford Learn from China?”

Plan for Rockford Sports Complex Raises Concerns

Reclaiming firstPublished May 29, 2012 at the Rock River Times

On May 16, the Illinois House approved a Senate bill allowing Winnebago County and its municipalities to raise their hotel tax rate by 2 percent. These funds will go toward a $37.5 to $43 million project ( to improve several existing Park District sports facilities, as well as to turn the former Ingersoll factory along the river in downtown Rockford into an indoor sports complex.

Proponents of this plan call it “Reclaiming First,” because it will supposedly reclaim Rockford’s place as the number one destination for sporting events in the Midwest. While this plan has received bipartisan support among elected officials in the area, taxpayers have several reasons to be concerned.

The riverfront sports complex alone is projected to cost between $11 and $14.9 million and will be funded by several sources, all of which are public. If passed, the hotel tax increase will generate an estimated $750,000 a year. $7 million in funding will come from the Illinois Department of Commerce, and Rockford’s redevelopment fund and the Rockford Park District are expected to pick up the rest of the tab.

Check out the entire column at the Rock River Times

Thank you all for your support!

Jim Hughes (D), Michael Kleen (R), and Larry Morrissey (I) at the Rockford College mayoral forum

After an exhausting and rewarding six months of campaigning, the election has come and gone, so I will be reactivating and updating my personal website.

I would like to thank everyone who supported me, who voted for me, who made phone calls, sent emails, walked door to door, donated, and put out yard signs. You are the folks who help make a difference and none of this would have been possible without you. Thanks to you, I received 18% of the vote in a 3-way race. This was the highest percentage for a Republican candidate for mayor of Rockford in more than eight years.

There is no telling what opportunities will come from the election, but for the foreseeable future I will be focusing my energy on my writing career and on continuing to propose common sense, practical reforms to help revitalize my community. I haven’t decided if that means running for public office again. For now, I’m content to resume my bi-weekly column in the Rock River Times.

As always, I’ll be working on new writing projects, and there may be another book tour in the works. Keep checking the website for updates.

Ashmore Estates to Appear on Ghost Hunters Tonight

Ashmore Estates is set to appear on SyFy Channel’s Ghost Hunters tonight. The episode, which will air at 9/8pm central, is titled “Permanent Residents” and will also feature the 1890 House Museum & Center For Victorian Arts in Cortland, New York.

Last week, Ashmore Estates, a former almshouse and hospital for the developmentally disabled, was heavily damaged by a powerful storm. The storm tore the new roof, which the Kelley’s had installed several years ago, clean off and destroyed several structures on the property. Volunteers have been working daily for the past week to help clean up the rubble. Several collections have also been started to help pay for the damages.

This is the second time Ashmore Estates has appeared on national television. In 2011, it was featured on Travel Channel’s Ghost Adventures.