If you thought the saga of the would-be Advanced Technology Center couldn't possibly endure any more confusing and cringeworthy plot twists, well, you were wrong.
The ATC is a missing link in the region's higher education toolbox, a dynamic career and technical education training center that, as envisioned, would sustain the region's advanced manufacturing workforce for decades to come.
Rock Valley College has had the ATC on its drawing board for years and its board of trustees has considered three sites: Colman Village in southwest Rockford, the downtown Register Star News Tower and a South Kishwaukee Street parcel near Chicago Rockford International Airport.
Recently, the college invited cities and property owners within its district to make their best pitch for an ATC location. Responses to the request for proposals are due May 6.
The ATC site selection has been a master class in dysfunction. College trustees have accused the city of breaking promises on financing and construction timelines. City leaders have accused trustees of bargaining in bad faith. RVC lawyers sent the city a cease and desist letter after Alderman Bill Rose accused the college of redlining by suggesting in its request for proposals that the ATC be built in a “safe” neighborhood.
The community college district includes all of Winnebago and Boone counties and small parts of Stephenson, Ogle, DeKalb and McHenry counties. Hononegah School District announced Friday a proposal to house the ATC on district-owned land west of the high school.
I get the feeling that the ATC won't be built in Rockford because the two elected leaders most responsible for closing a deal thus far, Rockford Mayor Tom McNamara and RVC Board Chairman Patrick Murphy, appear to be poles apart.
Differences between McNamara, a liberal Democrat, and Murphy, a conservative Republican, were clear in 2018 when the mayor stumped for a home rule referendum to give the city broader taxation power.
A well-organized campaign called Rockford Citizens Against Home Rule countered McNamara's message, aided by a $5,000 donation from Metrology Resource Group, a company owned by Murphy.
Nearly 54% of Rockford voters rejected the home rule question in March of 2018. Though Murphy helped finance the referendum defeat, it didn't safeguard his property tax bill.
Murphy lives in a house on South 20th Street that, until three years ago, sat just outside of the city limits. Enough property adjacent to his home was brought into the city by late 2017 that the city's legal department initiated a forcible annexation of Murphy's property.
City Council made Murphy a Rockford taxpayer by approving the annexation in December of 2017. His first property tax bill after being annexed into the city grew by $1,200, a 35% increase over his previous bill.
By the time Murphy paid that bill, a deal between Rock Valley and the city to establish the ATC at Colman Village had fallen apart. At a news conference in October, Murphy announced the college would explore the downtown News Tower as a home for the ATC.
Trustees now say the News Tower would cost millions of dollars to redevelop and the college doesn't have the money. Downtown advocates beg to differ. Among them is Rockford architect Gary Anderson, who last week criticized college trustees for a lack of vision surrounding the ATC. Murphy read Anderson's critique aloud during an online board meeting on Tuesday.
He then provided a sentence-by-sentence rebuttal of Anderson's critique that went on for a good 20 minutes. The cringe factor amplified as other trustees took turns defending their decisions and lobbing thinly-veiled barbs at Anderson and McNamara, neither of whom participated in the meeting.
The conversation took a left turn on Self Pity Boulevard when Murphy and trustee Gloria Cudia complained that trustees have been unjustly attacked on social media and in news reports.
“We have gotten quite a bit of letters and text messages to the point that we've been called racists and snobs,” she said. “And if that makes people feel better, then that's their privilege.”
Trustee John Nelson, a Rockford attorney, kept the bar low when he shared an anecdote about Anderson while speaking to Murphy.
“I know Gary Anderson well,” Nelson said. “... I've also had Mr. Anderson on the stand. And I think 'disingenuous,' quite frankly …. is a good word, Mr. Chairman, to describe him. I think it's time to build the Patrick Murphy ATC Center.”
Inclusion, respect, trustworthiness and unity — these are among the values embraced by successful leaders and successful communities. But if we've learned anything from the ATC soap opera, it's that Rockford is not ready for its final exam.
Isaac Guerrero: email@example.com; @isaac_rrs