Rockford Forward: Candidates for City Council respond to questionnaire

Town Hall meeting at 

North Rockford Middle School

September 26th at 7:00 p.m. ­— The public is encouraged to come.  Please send questions for candidates ahead of time to tracierich@remax.net or message us on facebook at Rockford Forward

 


Rockford Forward is a Political Action Committee (PAC) that organizes community leaders and residents to support public policy and leadership that will continue to make the City of Rockford a great place to live, work, and visit. You can see more about the Political Action Committee at their website, Rockfordforward.com. At their site is a video of the town hall meeting with all of the candidates for Rockford City Council as well as information about the founding members, Neil Blakeslee, Esq., Thomas Cronkright II, Esq., Tracie Rich, Rick VandeKerkoff, Bill Jackson, Dr. Michael Shibler and David Rasmussen.
The City of Rockford is a dynamic special place for all who live, work, and worship within it. It welcomes everyone with the beauty of the Rogue River, a safe and walk-able historic downtown shopping district and award winning schools. The benefits offered by the City of Rockford are the result of decades of planning, investment and leadership that have continued to drive it forward. As we look to the future, it is important to keep our strong heritage while continuing to meet the needs of current and future residents. Rockford Forward is dedicated in keeping the City of Rockford strong and vibrant. We are committed to being a trusted resource on critical issues that effect the City of Rockford.

 

The following candidates have furnished answer-Tammy Bergstrom, Jeff Lipe, Ed Ross and Jeff Lewis.  Ken Phillips declined to respond

1. How long have you been a City of Rockford resident?

Tammy: My husband (Herb) and I have lived in the city of Rockford since 1985. Our three boys were born and raised here and graduated from Rockford Public Schools.

Jeff Lewis: I have been a member of the greater Rockford community since 1985.

Ed Ross: 25 years

Jeff Lipe: 22 years

2. Why do you want to become a member of the Rockford City Council?

Tammy: To provide the leadership and attention Rockford needs to remain fiscally sound and responsive to the needs and concerns of its residents.

Jeff Lewis: I decided to run for Rockford City Council to fulfill a civic responsibility that insures locally elected government. My goal is to articulate the business of the City of Rockford, encourage dialogue and collaboration between citizens, government and businesses and champion continued development of a positive, sustainable vision for Rockford’s future.

Ed Ross: Running for City council has something that I have probably had on my radar for the past 12 to 14 years.  I have always been involved in the city of Rockford through Service Groups and serving on various Board.  I have always had an interest in serving on City Council. I truly enjoy being involved in our community and feel I have always had a lot to offer when it comes to leadership and community involvement.   With both Jerry Coons and Steve Jaswick not running, I felt now was the best time to put my name forward and become a member of a council that will be taking on of some of the bigger decisions that will affect this community for years to come.  I would like to see Rockford continue to grow in the positive manner we have over the past two decades and believe I have the historical knowledge and the ability to gather and process any pertinent information to make these decisions.

Jeff Lipe:We have some long time Council Members stepping away and I think it is important for the City to continue moving along the path that has been established.  My wife Kelly and I are empty nester’s and I have the time to commit now.

3. How would you describe the role of a City Council Member?

Tammy: The role of the council is to make informed decisions impacting the city by balancing the desires and well being of residents with applicable laws and regulations and with an outlook to the city’s future and fiscal viability.

Jeff Lewis: As an elected official, a City Council member is a bridge between City administrative and service functions and the City’s residents, businesses and other stakeholders (service and religious organizations, schools, etc.), and a steward overseeing the current direction and future health of the City.

Ed Ross: There are the normal process of any city council – approval of new or ongoing agreements, appointing members to committees, budgeting, hiring; and overseeing of the City Manager and his or her job performance.  For me, a good City Council Member needs to possess a servant/leadership quality to truly have a positive effect on his or her community. I would say that a member of City Council has a responsibility to be knowledgeable of any request for a decision put before the council, and if not, seek out the information and facts to make an informed decision.  A council member should demonstrate the ability to review and understand data and process it in light of any decision at hand — all with a focus that the decision they are making is based on what is best for the community as a whole.

As a member I would be willing to ask questions not only of those looking for a decision but others who may hold information; willing to talk with people of differing views and make sure that as much of these questions are both asked and answered.  I seek to determine what information is fact and information is put forth with a specific agenda in mind.  As a member of City Council I would continue to serve on committees as appointed be involved in the community, participate and attend community events as available.

Jeff Lipe: Primarily help create policy ( with input from the community), for the betterment of the city, as well as working with other council members to oversee the City Manager who will be implementing the policy.

4. Describe what level of involvement you have had in the City of Rockford issues or issues within the Rockford Community over the years, either official or unofficial

Tammy: I have served four years on the City Council (2012-2016), including serving as Mayor Pro Tem. Prior to and during that time I served as a member of the Rockford Planning Commission for 13 years (2003-2016) and the Rockford Board of Review for 12 years (2000-2012). Currently serving as Board of Review alternate. For many years prior to serving in an official capacity, I covered the city of Rockford for various newspapers including the North Kent Advance, The Grand Rapids Press, the Rockford Squire and The Rockford Independent. Other community involvement includes serving as a volunteer at my children’s schools and as an appointee to various committees including Rockford’s Parks and Recreation Committee

Jeff Lewis: Communications and Community Development As owner of Fluis Inc, I developed and produced the City’s Rockford First Campaign from 2006-2015, which built a positive image of the city for current and future residents, businesses, tourists and investors. Through that position, I developed sound relationships with local and civic leaders.

Business and Community Relations As a member of the Rockford Chamber of Commerce since 2005, I have served in committee and leadership positions including President from 2014-2015

Arts and Quality of Life  I served as a member of the Rockford Area Arts Commission from 2004 through 2013, including three years as Chairman from 2010–2013.

Religious Freedom As a minister and leader in my religious community for the past 35 years, I have had responsibility for fiscal, organizational, spiritual, service, public affairs, youth and missionary responsibilities.

Ed Ross: I have always had a high level of involvement in our community over the past 25 years. As a member of the Rockford Jaycees, Rockford Federal Credit Union Board, Relay for Life committee member, Sjogren Memorial Committee, Lions and Rockford Community Endowment I have dealt with the bringing new events to the City.  I have worked with getting city approval for insurance and closure of streets and their assistance for physical needs of events as planned.

I was one of the original Chairpersons for Sweetheart Splash and took charge of developing what is now this on-going winter event. As a member of the Rockford Jaycees I worked to bring a fall Beer Tent / Chili Cookoff to downtown area for several years.  More recently I was the Chairperson for Paint the Town Purple a winter event for Relay for Life in which the goal of which was to raise awareness of cancer survivors and to draw area resident’s downtown to area merchants, many of which participated.

I have met and worked with our police department, physical plant department head, city hall employees, area merchants, Rockford Area Chamber of Commerce depending on the need for any upcoming event.

There are many other events not listed that I have played a role in and I have always been able to work with the city in positive manner to bring entertainment and awareness to our community with each.

Jeff Lipe: I have been a member of the planning commission for nearly five years, so I have been involved in a number of projects or issues that came before the commission in that time, most notably the Tamarack Run Condo Project on North Monroe.

5. Describe what unique knowledge or skills you possess that will allow you to add value to the City of Rockford as a member of the City Council?

Tammy: My involvement in city government for over 20 years as a journalist, appointed and eventually elected official gives me a broad perspective that few others have. I have a solid understanding of the authority and the constraints of our local government as well as the resident taxpayer perspective that comes from living and raising a family in the city for more than 30 years. My past experience as a journalist covering other municipalities in addition to Rockford provides a broad base of knowledge of the issues of local government and approaches these challenges.

Jeff Lewis: I am a consensus builder, a forward thinker and a listener. I try to distill complex topics into easy–to–understand points. I am not afraid of new ideas or differing points of view.

Programs, acquiring local and state grants and developing programs and events designed to appeal both to artists and the community.

As President  of the Rockford Chamber of Commerce, I worked with our Executive Director to reverse a negative financial trend, increase membership, refocus Chamber efforts on events that better met resident, tourism and business needs and supported a bylaw to allow better fiscal management by the board and staff.

Ed Ross: I would say having spent most of my adult life in this community and having a knowledge of our history our citizens and being involved.  While serving on any board or committee, I haven’t shied away from leadership roles.  I have been involved in many decisions that have affected our community positively.  Whether raising money for a need of an individual or specific community need I have always been one to get involved and have a knowledge for how to get things done.

I also have an ability to bring people together and focus on a common cause.  As to a skill I would say I’m a very good listener and seek out advice from various people who have dealt with an issue or have a specific expertise in a field prior to forming an opinion. I do not mind healthy conflict and discussion and I am one who has a passion for the spirit of our community.  I work with a lot of energy and am tireless when working towards a goal.

My position as a mortgage originator gives me a very specific knowledge of our housing market as I have helped many area residents finance their homes here in Rockford over the years. I have owned my own business for several years and as a leader of a small team, we work hard together to bring the best out in each other while serving our customers.

Jeff Lipe: I don’t know that I possess any unique skills per say, but I always look to be level headed and pragmatic when dealing with city issues.

6. What is your experience with local government, budgeting, and fiscal policy?

Tammy: Both as a journalist and elected council member, I have been deeply involved in the city budgeting process numerous times. Through my past experience (including as a member of the Board of Review for more than 12 years), I have an appreciation of the impact of property values and the historic decline of revenue sharing.

Beyond ensuring fiscal soundness and solid infrastructure to ensure reliable city services, I would work toward better communication with residents on city activity.

Jeff Lewis: Examples of local government, budgeting and fiscal policy:

During my tenure with the Rockford Area Arts Commission (a City of Rockford Commission) I held responsibility for the Commission’s budget, working with the City Manager, Finance Director, Clerk and Treasurer.

I directed efforts to stop negative cash outflow that was depleting reserves by enacting and enforcing fiscal goals, cutting unsustainable and off–target

Ed Ross: I have a knowledge and understanding of local government, its challenges and needs.   As a member of the Rockford Community Federal Credit Union Board, Rockford Area Community endowment, Rockford Jaycees and as a successful small business owner for the past 16 years, with five employees, I have been on an annual, semi-annual and in some cases daily basis spent much of my time creating and monitoring budgets and putting forth fiscal policy as a basis for future decisions.

Jeff Lipe: I am certainly not an expert on this front, but I own a business and I am very familiar with budgeting and implementing fiscal policy in that regard

7. If elected to the City Council what three things would you focus on?

Tammy: Beyond ensuring fiscal soundness and solid infrastructure to ensure reliable city services, I would work toward better communication with the residents on city activity.

Jeff Lewis: Good Government, Fiscal responsibility, Vision for the future

Ed Ross: The cost of living in Rockford is something I have heard a lot from many concerned citizens.  Taxes are necessary to run any community and we all share the responsibility and cost.  We need to insure that we are not driving up the cost of being a homeowner in Rockford making it unaffordable.

That we continue to provide good service to our citizens, making sure we provide funds in the budget for upkeep and improvement of our community with an eye for future needs.

Future development of our community.  We are continually expanding and know that we are pushing our limits for service, for example with water.  We need to protect our water source to insure that Rockford as a community will have safe and clean water for its citizens. As we expand as a community I would like to insure we are developing at a pace that is consistent with the grow a community like Rockford can handle without losing our identity or services.  Also, I would like us to revisit the feasibility of developing the Wolverine Property.  I believe our council should look for opportunities to promote growth in these areas with a mindset of the uniqueness of the community of Rockford.

Jeff Lipe: I believe that maintaining and updating the master plan is critical to Rockford’s continued success.  Also, continuing (or developing new) policies if necessary, that will support the continued revitalization of the downtown and waterfront areas.  I also think it is important to make sure the administration and city staff are provided with the tools or equipment necessary to allow them to be efficient and successful in the running of their daily operations.

8. The PFAS issue has attracted national attention to the Rockford area. What is your perspective on the issue as it relates to the residents and business owners within the City of Rockford?

Tammy: With regard to the PFAS contamination on the Wolverine property, our first priority must be to ensure the safety and well being of residents, as well as having a solid understanding of the extent and impact of the contamination and its future consequences. The lack of communication from the city on this matter gives the impression that the city is more concerned about the public relations aspect of this issue.

Jeff Lewis: The PFAS issue has affected our environmental footprint in the perception of citizens, neighbors and the world. We need transparency from all fronts: government, business and citizens. We need to openly communicate and work together.

Community and business leaders of the past may not have understood the future dangers of PFAS. However, these civic leaders and benefactors lived in this community and had a vested interest in its health and well–being. They lived in an era where science had not caught up to the potential dangers caused.

That said, we need to hold any actors accountable for deliberate acts of ecological harm. We must invest our talent, time and treasure as a community of citizens to find remedies and promote the healing of our natural resources and reputation.

Ed Ross: This should be a major concern to all who live and own business’s here in Rockford.  Finding contaminated water within our current well system would be financially devastating for both business and homeowners.   As stated in my previous response this is one of my major concerns and as a city leaders need to continue to be proactive in looking for additional sources of water that are unaffected by the PFA’s issue to insure we have redundancy within our well system that protects our community from any interruption of water service if testing were to find any of the current wells contaminated.

Jeff Lipe: I certainly think we need to be vigilant, a clean water supply for the city should be the highest priority, and thankfully Rockford’s supply wells have tested clean to this point.

9. What is your view of further expansion of housing and commerce with in the City of Rockford?

Tammy: With regard to future development within the city, I have no strong views one way or the other.

Jeff Lewis: Rockford’s small town charm is appealing to residents and visitors alike. While we protect and cherish that charm, we cannot simply shut the doors to the future. Rockford has reinvented itself throughout its history and will continue to evolve. We are the stewards of that evolution. We protect our community values for ourselves and the generations to come.

I don’t believe that growth alone is the top priority for a landlocked community like Rockford, but good growth, positive change, new ideas and new opportunity cannot be ignored or dismissed.

Ed Ross: Currently Rockford has multiple types of housing which includes low, Moderate and in some cases what could be considered high income housing. Continuing with a variety of housing types and price points is essential for Rockford to attract a broad spectrum of citizens.  We have housing for Seniors, starter homes for young family’s rentals and neighborhoods with home that attract a mixed class of individuals, we need to continue to support these various types of housing to make Rockford attractive to all.  As to Commerce I for one would like to see more opportunities for Rockford to attract both small and large business.   I would like to see the former Wolverine Property developed to expand our Downtown shopping opportunities for both visitors and citizens and to have that become a mixed use property that includes, shops restaurants and housing along the River.   I also would not regulate the amount of any one shop or a certain type of shop in the city.

Jeff Lipe: This is where I think the master plan is critical to our success.  I am all for growth, but I believe that it needs to be well thought out and this is the tool we need to use.

10. Suppose the City Council faced a proposal that meets all regulations and requirements, yet a small number of citizens appeared before the City Council to oppose it. How would you decided to vote? Would your vote change if a larger number of citizens appeared in opposition?

Tammy: If a development project meets all the regulations and requirements under law, a municipality cannot deny the property owner his/her right without risk of a lawsuit. If, however, the project requires one or more actions by the city and for which the city has discretion, then the city can and should negotiate on behalf of its residents, regardless of the group’s size.

Jeff Lewis: There are three “legs” that hold up Rockford. One leg is government and service, one is its residents and the third is business. Without all three legs, the City cannot stand. It is the duty of the City Council to study an issue, listen to the voice of the people and vote in a manner they believe best suits Rockford’s needs, goals and future.

Resident groups and special interests may not win every petition. However, the City should not expect a motion to pass because it simply “meets regulations and requirements” without the approval of a majority of its residents and businesses. Honest citizens, an open government and engaged business leaders can find common ground on almost any challenge.

Ed Ross: I would not be swayed simply by a small or large contingency of citizens.  The number of concerned citizens should not be the biggest factor of a decision — only what is best for the Community of Rockford as a whole.

I can see where either a small or large group could be correct in their assertions and as a Council Member I would want to hear the concerns of these individuals to make sure those who are affected by a decision have an opportunity to voice said concerns.  I would listen, investigate and take them into consideration.  I would want to see that these questions are both asked and answered and that I am weighing into my decision the validity of these concerns brought forth in light of the question at hand and that I am basing my decisions on fact.

Jeff Lipe:Yes. That is why we have the regulations or requirements in place as a blue print to follow.  Done correctly, those would also be changing as necessary to accommodate a changing community.  Part two is difficult to say without specifics, but in general no.

11. How do you see the relationship between the City Council and the City Manager and City Staff?

Tammy: There should be open and regular communication between council members and the City Manager. Council members should be regularly (at least weekly) updated and kept informed of city matters. Council members should be available and responsive to the City Manager on issues that arise between council meetings, and the City Manager should be available and responsive to council member questions and concerns. That said, all council decisions must be made in public. Council member communication with other city staff should be at the discretion of the City Manager.

Jeff Lewis: Being a City Manager is a tough job. It requires insight, intuition and vision to keep large and varied constituencies happy, be several places at once, communicate to numberless special interests and articulate and direct the future vision of the community. It is the City Council’s responsibility to oversee and understand these challenges and the ways that the Manager and his staff plan to achieve them. There should be clarification. There should be push back. Ideas should be expanded and clarified. Things should get messy sometimes, because that’s how great solutions evolve.

Once dialogue and discourse have been heard, deliberation has taken place and votes have been cast, the Council has three responsibilities; to evaluate and measure performance, to support the City Manager and staff as they work to do the people’s will and to protect the reputation of, and potential liability to, the City.

Ed Ross: The relationship between that of the City Council and the City Manager should be productive and positive. Both parties should be in line with the goals of the community and our responsibility to its citizens and the council should provide input and oversight. The council should check the validity of proposal brought forth by the manager and set goals for the City Manager in line with moving Rockford in the right direction.   The council should seek information from the manager relying on his expertise in the field of managing a community and continue to verify that information brought forth is accurate and in line with the goals of the community.

Jeff Lipe: I see council as policy makers, and the City Manager as being tasked with implementing that policy and overseeing city staff to get it accomplished.

12. If you could propose and pass any program, initiative, or change in policy, what would it be?

Tammy: Regarding programs or policies, I would simply advocate for more and better communication from City Hall to residents. Maybe do something about the geese. 🙂

Jeff Lewis: I’m an advocate of sustainability. From what I have read in local media, am impressed with the goals outlined in the initiative presented by Mindy Miner to establish a sustainability commission in Rockford.

Individually, we may not have the power to reverse decades of environmental action, but we do have the ability and responsibility to do a little bit better in protecting our community and planet going forward. A City vision plan to measure and evaluate our collective environmental footprint seems like a good, attainable idea.

Ed Ross: I would like to investigate or do a study on the possibility of increasing the number of council members on the board to seven.  Rockford has grown over the past few decades and more representation only allows for more ideas and qualified individuals to have an influence on the direction our community takes.

Jeff Lipe: I would not be coming through the door with any single issue as a priority.  I do not believe that we have a broken system here.  I do think that we need to continue to be visionary in our planning and continue to do things the “Rockford Way” in our implementation.

13. Is there any other information you would like the City of Rockford voters to know about you?

Tammy: No answer

Jeff Lewis: I am assertive, not aggressive. I will work honestly and transparently. I will search for answers and work to find common ground. I also love a City that has four different kinds of frozen desserts (ice cream, froyo, frozen custard, shaved ice cream crepes) within two blocks of each other.

Ed Ross: I have always felt blessed my family landed in Rockford when we moved to this side of the State as it is a very special community.  I’m grateful for the friends I, my sons and wife have made throughout the years and the people I have had the opportunity to work and live alongside.   I like the atmosphere we have developed and that our town is a destination for many.  I would like to see that continue to grow as we go forward.

I have always enjoyed being involved in our community and the boards and committees I have served on.  When I participate in any event it is with the purpose of to enhance the life of the Rockford Community or to meet the needs of an individual.

I am one with a broader not narrower vision of what Rockford is and can continue to become.  We should continue grow thoughtfully as we continue to widen our scopes of interests.

Jeff Lipe:My wife Kelly and I have been married for 24 years. We live in the Highlands and have three children that graduated from the Rockford Schools. Together we own Lipe Industrial Service’s, which we moved to Rockford in 2008.