Proposed Panhandling Ordiance Changes

Since my column came out yesterday, there has been a lot of good discussion regarding my proposed amendments to Rockford’s aggressive panhandling ordinance. Since I did not have space in my column to outline the specific changes, I thought I would make a document available that clearly outlined the changes I am proposing. The most dramatic involves the addition of a section prohibiting “False or Misleading Solicitation.” A similar section appears in Orlando, Florida’s aggressive panhandling ordinance.

I have submitted these changes to members of the Codes & Regulation Committee, as well as City Attorney Patrick Hayes. Mr. Hayes’ staff is reviewing my suggestions and they will get back to me with a “substantive response.” He informed me that the City Council enacted some modifications to the panhandling ordinance in 2005 and 2006, but I don’t know what those modifications were.

The reason I’m blogging and writing about this is because I think the public should have a chance to review and discuss proposed changes to the law. All too often, lobbyists and special interest groups push through changes that affect a large part of the community, and the public doesn’t find out about them until the changes come up for a vote (or even after they are passed). Click this link to download a PDF document that shows our current ordinance and the expanded ordinance with changes in red.

Strengthening Rockford’s laws against public nuisances like panhandling was just one part of my public safety platform when I ran for mayor. I believe these changes would be good for our city, and I will work to get them passed over the next few weeks.

Panhandling-Ordinance-Proposal.pdf

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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”

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 (reclaimingfirst.org) 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

Public-Private Partnerships or Just Crony Capitalism?

Public-Private Partnerships or Just Crony Capitalism?

Published September 19, 2012 at Rock River Times

“Public-private partnership” has become the latest buzzword among the political class and its supporters. Often used in combination with “economic development” (another favorite campaign slogan), it conjures the rosy image of government and the private sector walking hand-in-hand toward a more prosperous future. More careful observers, however, see nothing more than a mask for cronyism and corruption. In truth, these partnerships may enrich a few, but they hardly ever yield the promised benefits for the public.

The “public-private” concept works in several ways: either government partners with private business to build and maintain public projects, or government invests in private business in order to foster the growth of certain industries, supposedly for the public good. Rather than stay out of the marketplace, government officials use their influence and authority to grant special favors to their friends and colleagues in the business world.

When government officials and business leaders maintain a close relationship for their own financial benefit, as is often the case with public-private partnerships, it is sometimes called “crony capitalism.” Crony capitalism is marked by favoritism when it comes to handing out legal permits, government grants, business contracts, and special tax breaks. Self-serving friendships or familial ties between businessmen and government officials mean that anyone not on the “inside” of these relationships is excluded from the process.

Check out the entire column at the Rock River Times

Rock Valley College Faces First Amendment Challenge from Student

Published September 5, 2012 at Rock River Times

Campus speech codes and other rules governing expression at public colleges and universities have long been controversial. Now, Rock Valley College has landed itself in hot water over its policies concerning which students have access to campus bulletin boards and which do not. Dominic Celletti, a Criminal Justice student at RVC, is filing suit in Federal court over what he says was a systematic infringement on his freedom of speech by administrators at the college.

A letter sent last October by the Rutherford Institute to Jack Becherer, President of Rock Valley College, explained the incident that led to the civil suit. On September 2, 2011, Dominic approached staff at the Student Life Center about his ability to post flyers around campus, urging students to get involved in civil rights issues. 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.

“As you can see,” a staff attorney at the Rutherford Institute wrote, “the flyers are not offensive or inflammatory and simply urge people to stand up for their civil liberties and become knowledgeable about their constitutional rights.” When Dominic inquired about posting the flyers, however, 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.

Read the entire column at the Rock River Times

In Praise of the Wage

Published August 22, 2012 at Rock River Times

It is not easy to start, own, and run a business, but it is easy to overlook this fact. Most people, after all, have never owned a business. While clocking in and out every day, it is easy to imagine that your employers are living the high life while you and the other employees toil around them. Reality is much more complicated, however, and it may just be the simple wage earner who has the last laugh.

For every successful business owner, there are many more whose businesses failed, or who have struggled for years just to stay above water. Whether it is a mom and pop store or multimillion dollar operation, the fate of every business is ultimately determined by the whims of the marketplace. Circuit City, Frontier Airlines, Hollywood Video, and Borders Books are just a few of the hundreds of companies that have gone under in recent years. Each one represented the dreams and desires of an entrepreneur or group of entrepreneurs. Each took years to build and seemed, at one time, to be unstoppable.

Those are just some of the most prominent examples. According to a special tabulation by the Census Bureau, 25 percent of businesses founded in 1992 did not make it past their first year. By 1997, less than 50 percent of those businesses were still in operation, and by 2002, only 29 percent were still operating. Of course, those numbers vary according to industry, but overall, they paint a very grim picture. For every business that survives to its one year anniversary, there are many more that never even make it to opening day.

Read the entire column at the Rock River Times!