ROCKFORD — Alderman Bill Rose has presented what he calls an "official grievance" on behalf of a group of residents and civic leaders over Rock Valley College‘s handling of where to build an advanced technology center.
In an April 11 email to RVC trustees and officials of the Illinois Community College Board, Rose said a request for proposals that included "vague language" about locating the technology center in "a ‘safe’ and ‘accessible’ area is reminiscent of the 1930s-60s housing and banking industry’s use of redlining neighborhoods from access to housing for minority groups."
The 9th Ward Democrat sent the email on behalf of a group calling itself Rockford Area Citizens for Transparent and Accountable Government. Rose listed Alderwoman Venita Hervey, D-5, and Alderman Tony Gasparini, D-2, as members of the group, along with Rockford residents and community leaders like former state Rep. Litesa Wallace.
The letter says the community college failed to communicate a plan for minority recruitment, lost sight of the original intent of the technology center and scuttled plans for it at the former Barber-Colman factory campus, a location group members believe would have been ideal for providing workforce training and lifting minority residents out of poverty.
Rock Valley College has turned the matter over to its lawyers. Attorney Joseph Perkoski sent a letter to Rose telling him that RVC considers the grievance to be a clear threat of litigation.
Perkoski said that if the goal was to engage trustees in an open dialogue, a letter threatening legal action was the wrong tactic.
Perkoski said Rose’s letter is filled with baseless allegations that the college "violated its fiduciary and ethical duties" by seeking RFPs while threatening to file a grievance against the college in an effort to initiate an investigation of potential civil rights violations.
Perkoski emphasized that the college needs to serve the entire district, which includes all of Winnebago and Boone counties and portions of Ogle, Stephenson, DeKalb and McHenry counties in addition to Rockford.
He said there was nothing nefarious about language in the RFP about safety and accessibility. The college, he said, must adhere to the Americans with Disabilities Act provisions on accessibility.
And he said "safety" was a general term.
"I think it’s quite a stretch to suggest that verbiage is somehow related to an intent to be discriminatory," Perkoski said in a phone interview. "I think it’s completely baseless and without merit."
Rose denied that the group had threatened legal action.
But he argues that the college has an obligation to develop goals for minority recruitment and retention. And he argues that those goals would align with regional goals established by Transform Rockford, which determined that "inclusion is a key shared value."
Rose said RVC had shrouded most of the decision making surrounding the advanced technology center in secrecy. And he asked trustees to engage in a public dialogue before proceeding with an RFP process.
If the college fails to answer a list of questions about plans for minority recruitment and education, he wrote, the group could seek to file a civil rights complaint "to ensure that the college is faithfully executing state and federal dollars related to minority recruitment."
"Over the course of the last year, our community have been witness to government action by your board by playing direct interference in the Barber-Colman (advanced technology center) project, a project whose main goal was to create an environment that provided westside and southwest minority youth an opportunity to join our workforce through training at a world class technology and job center," Rose wrote. "This interference has brought about discussion that goes against the goals of the college in recruitment and access to post-secondary school for minority youth."
Trustees in October withdrew from an agreement to develop the technology center at the city-owned former Barber-Colman factory campus on Rockford’s southwest side.
College trustees said they pivoted to the News Tower at 99 E. State St. because of an urgent need for workforce training and because neither the city nor its partner, Rockford Local Development Corp., had been able to secure sufficient financing or guarantee when construction would begin at the former Barber-Colman campus.
Months later, however, Rock Valley still has not committed to a site for the advanced technology center and has issued a request for proposals. Trustees say that although the News Tower is centrally located and accessible to public transportation, the cost to redevelop it is prohibitive.
Jeff Kolkey: email@example.com; @jeffkolkey