Both leave Rockford City Council
By BETH ALTENA
A changing of leadership will have taken place by the time next month’s Rockford City Council takes their seats. The last meeting for Mayor Steve Jazwiec and former Mayor Jerry Coon was Monday, October 8 in Rockford’s City Hall. The two declined to run again to maintain their position and two new leaders will come from a pool of five who are seeking the role.
Rockford’s monthly council meeting began with thanks to Linda Southwick, Executive Director of the Rockford Chamber of Commerce, who presided over an extremely successful Harvest Festival weekend last month. City Manager Thad Beard praised Southwick and said “I continue to be impressed with the organization, the number of volunteers.”
He talked about the banquet celebration of the Rockford Area Museum’s five years, which had impressive entertainment. Beard said the Rockford ACES stole the show and he called their performance amazing.
He brought council up to speed on the future new Krause Library. A meeting with Algoma Township leadership is scheduled with a preliminary agreement to join forces in funding and operating the renovated library. Townships who participate will have two members on a board overseeing the institution. The goal is to “build a new library that meets all our needs.” He said Cannon Township is already game to participate.
The newly remodeled men’s restroom in the Welcome Center has given rise to a dissatisfaction to the state of the women’s restroom. The women’s side is now closed due to renovation.
The Park and Recreation Five Year Plan is underway and a public pizza party to obtain public input will be held at the Community Cabin on October 18. The city is also using facebook and social media to solicit public participation in a survey to find out what recreation and park options the public wants to see implemented.
The seawall at Garden Club Park is under reconstruction. The failing pillars have been removed, a large tree is being removed. The project is a little late because a Department of Environmental Quality permit was needed.
Beard offered thanks to Steve Jazwiec and Jerry Coon for their service on the board, given the meeting was their last after many years of service. He said he was somewhat biased because they were among those who chose Beard for his position as Rockford’s City Manager. He noted the two have been active among service groups like the Lions and Rotary, active in the Chamber, in bringing Rockford the Blues Series and in countless other ways. “You will be missed.” The entire audience in attendance applauded his words.
Public comments included presentations about Krause Library. A resident member of the Krause Board spoke about what it means to him to represent Krauser and spoke about what makes him proud to be a part ot Kent District Library. He pointed to seniors using technology at the facility as well as kids. Lance Werner, Director of Kent District Library, has earned recognition as Librarian of the Year for the entire nation. Recently the library took possession of a bookmobile that will be used in public outreach.
A representative from KDL identified herself and said she was here to talk about 2017. She said the library’s strategic plan for the year covered dozens and dozens of goals, which all were met. “I will go over each and every one of them right now. Just kidding.” She said changes to the summer reading club made participation easier and increased involvement by twenty percent.
She said not only is Lance the United State’s Librarian of the Year, he is on the ballot to be president of the national library board. She said KDL has the largest circulation in Michigan with eight million items checked out and 2.8 million engagements per year.
One of the favorites is a program where patrons can borrow bikes. With the proximity to the White Pine Trail, this has been very well used. She also touted ebook use, with 87,000 digital items borrowed in 2017.
Jennifer German, Director of Krause Memorial Library said she is really proud of the popularity of the library. This year the tenth Reading Rocks in Rockford festival was held with 2,700 people in attendance and 41 authors. She said summer reading continues to be really popular with a sixty percent increase in the summer club in 2017 over 2016.
“We might take for granted having a library,” she said. A woman who moved here from Croatia signed up for a library card at the branch and asked how much it cost to check out a book. When she learned it is free, she shared that in Croatia, library users must pay for each book they borrow.
Under bragging rights, German said Krause has the highest circulation per square foot in the district. “I am proud of that. I thank you for your support.”
Mayor Jazwiec said the fact book about Krause that she provided to them has been very useful in talking about the library with people from Algoma and Cannon townships.
In public comments, Linda Southwick tried to be brief. She said the car show had 170 entries, the most ever. The chili contest had seven teams and sold 150 tastings. The chili was gone quickly. Other events went equally well, from the flu shots, craft sales, hay rides, the coloring contest and the trick or treat and Movies on the Rogue. Rotary sold 1,100 chicken dinners and the Lions tent was full. Businesses that had special events were popular, from Sweet Tooth which ran through 400 pumpkins to decorate. Herman’s Boy had samples, the Rockford Brewing tent was packed, Rockford Ace Hardware had 52 antique tractors on display and a parade of them through town. United Methodist Church sold 140 breakfasts, and then Linda ran out of time on the three minute counter. She answered from her seat that the Scarecrow contest did not win the Guinness Book of World Records but still did great, selling 1,000 scarecrows.
Rich Moll talked about Praise in the Park, now concluding seven years. Of the 94 Sundays in those years there was only one rain-out. “It’s been noted that it doesn’t rain on Sundays in Rockford,” he said. The free outdoor concerts are a great success, drawing people from outside Rockford (Cadillac) and bringing in large crowds. He said he thanks council for allowing this to take place every summer.
Ken Phillips stood to mention the Sustainability Committee in its infant stages. “I know everyone hates scope creep, but maybe we could add an environmental element to it.” He also mentioned ongoing concerns over parking on Monroe Street and hopes the city will keep an eye on that.
There was a Mayoral Proclamation read by Mayor Jazwiec making Rockford a Tree City USA, an Arbor Day program.
There was a proclamation honoring Jazwiec for his 17 years of service on city council, the second longest serving member after Mary Eadie, who served 35 years. Likewise, Jerry Coon was honored for eight years service.
Council voted to approve the bylaws for the Sustainability Committee and discussed whether non-residents with business interests in Rockford could serve on the committee. The terms for members would be three years with an annual report required in April. City council is responsible for appointing members. Solicitation of board members will be through social media and local newspaper.
Terry Konkle said the process was thorough, including several meetings and a conference call with someone in Holland. “I’m pretty happy with it and I’m the one who had concerns.”
Jazwiec said he would prefer city members only to be on the committee, but he would still approve the bylaws. Scales reassured him, saying residents would be the first choice and the bylaws don’t require any outside residents to be on the committee. It was moved by Terry Konkle and seconded by Cheryl Scales and passed unanimously.
The City opted out of Public Act 152, passed in 2011 requiring public employees to share benefit costs 20-80 with employers. The city currently requires employees to pay twelve percent of benefit costs. Jerry Coon and Melissa Young moved to vote and the item passed unanimously.
Council approved purchase of a mobile generator for $42,000 with an expected trade-in of the old one for $3,700. Council also approved a feasibility study for a new Department of Public Works building. Beard noted this doesn’t mean the department will build on a new location or at all. The study will cost $7,500, the low bid, and will also provide an estimate of how much a proposed new structure will cost. Coon said he certainly heard from Director Jamie Davies about cramped quarters and lack of storage space for equipment.
A Letter of Intent was considered regarding the new joint municipal stewardship of Krause Library. “We aren’t looking to reinvent the wheel here,” Beard stated. “We have a great model with the North Kent Sewer Authority.” The letter is very general, allowing each participating municipality to have two members in the effort to collaborate jointly to have a new library. It was approved.
In the review of Board and Commission reports, Beard said the Planning Commission does need to meet to discuss AirBnB ordinances. Additionally, action needs to be taken on marijuana facilities in the downtown district. “It is anticipated recreational marijuana use will be passed in November. He said previous legislation had cities opt out. “This will be the opposite.”
“In order to regulate, we have to have regulations.” He said regulations would be such things as not smoking near public building entrances.
The Downtown Development Authority did not meet but will meet. He said a local artist wants to paint a mural under the bridge under the White Pine Trail. The Board of Zoning Appeals did not meet. The Economic Development needs to meet. RACE will meet to plan their biannual banquet and is soliciting names of people to be honored at Recognition Plaza.
For Council Comments Cheryl Scales thanked Jerry and Steve for years of service. Melissa Young thanked participants who attended the memorial ceremony for the Michael Young Waterfront. She said it was a special day and a beautiful day. “It was perfect,” she said.
Terry Konkle said he wanted to thank Steve and Jerry. He said he started attending council meetings in 2007 when the museum was under discussion.
Jerry Coon ending his tenure on council with a moving speech (see below). Mayor Jazwiec likewise was eloquent recounting his time on the council. “I missed only one meeting in 17 years and that was for the surprise 80th birthday party for my mother,” he said. He said he was proud to be elected mayor when his father was still alive, and being from Chicago, his dad wanted to know when the signs would be changed to have Jazwiec’s name on them.
He said here in Rockford he learned that a person’s handshake and word was as good as a signed agreement. He is proud to have followed in the footsteps of some great people who have served on council, like Neil Blakeslee, Chi Chi Rogers and Mary Eadie. He said he is especially proud of the staff of the City of Rockford. He especially praised Chief Jones and Clerk Chris Bedford. When the City Manager unexpectedly passed, those two divided up the work and got things done. Finally he thanked his wife, Susan, who he called “my rock.” He also noted the strong and unwavering support of his son David, “my number one cheerleader.”
“I am truly blessed,” he stated. “Lastly, I thank the residents of Rockford. It has been a pleasure and a privilege.” The meeting adjourned at 8:05 p.m.
Jerry Coon’s comments on stepping down from City Council
“I heard one of the senators in the Kavanaugh debacle say “History will judge you how it judges everyone but you will have to judge yourself as well.” As I look back over these last 8 years another saying comes to mind-“These were the best of times and the worst of times.” A couple of those years should have counted for 2 years. They were full of “activity”. Some of that “activity” was, shall we say, contentious. One of the most contentious projects that any of us have ever seen or been involved with was the Tamarack Run Condominium project. Ultimately, the project is going to be a great housing addition to the city and, coincidentally, result in property that was an environmental disaster cleaned up. Others were much easier on all of us like Rich Mol’s pet project, the Dog Park, and my fellow councilman, Terry Konkle’s project, the Rockford Area Museum and my project, getting the Chamber of Commerce moved back downtown and in the municipal complex. A few other, among many, projects worthy of mentioning are the John Sjogren Memorial Statue; being a part of getting the Krause Library expansion in motion; continuing the Riverwalk on the west side of the Rogue; the Michael F Young Riverfront Waterfall and seeing the successful resurrection of the Corner Bar.
It’s been a pleasure to work with the City staff. We have a dedicated and hard working staff. Over these 8 years, a few people moved on to other jobs or retired. However, one change over-shadowed all other changes and was not voluntary, namely losing our friend and city manager, Michael Young. I was part of the team and process that concluded with the hiring of Thad Beard as our City Manger. It has been great seeing him successfully acclimate himself to leading our city. In between Michael and Thad, the staff proved just how good they truly are. We were able to take our time; heal as much as possible from the loss; and find someone who is a nice fit for us. Chief Dave Jones and City Clerk Chris Bedford divided up the responsibilities and made sure the City moved forward. Infrastructure projects in the works got completed; new ones were planned; and funding for the future was put into place. Neither of them is the boastful type but both of them stepped up when it was needed the most. Thank you, Dave. Thank you, Chris.
As a Councilman for 6 years and Mayor for 2 years, my goal was to be level-headed and make decisions for the long term that would be good for all of Rockford. I said I would concentrate on infrastructure updating including working on the areas of the city without sidewalks. We do have more sidewalks now and even Courtland Dr. is moving forward. You can look around the city and see the on-going projects with many more projects being planned for the next several years.
I am proud to have sat in this seat along with those friends who served before and with me including Neil Blakeslee, Mary Eadie, Brien Dews, Rich Mol and, of course, Mayor Steve Jazwiec. I appreciate their time spent on the council and their advice over the years. I also thank Terry, Melissa, and Mayor Pro-tem Cheryl for the time they are spending on behalf of all residents. Finally, history does judge us, but we still have to live with ourselves. I can live with myself and my decisions. Allow me to end this chapter of my life like I end my Squire articles; “This is Jerry Coon signing off.” Thank You all.”