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RKFDNEWS EXCLUSIVE: Michael Kleen, 2013 Mayoral Candidate, Reveals New Book: “Rockford Confidential”

RKFDNEWS EXCLUSIVE: Michael Kleen, 2013 Mayoral Candidate, Reveals New Book:  “Rockford Confidential”
Michael Kleen, Former City of Rockford Mayoral Candidate, Author, Historian

Michael Kleen is a writer, historian, and folklorist from Illinois. He has a M.A. in History from Eastern Illinois University and a M.S. in Education from Western Illinois University. He is best known for his work about Illinois folklore, but he is also a freelance columnist and speaker on politics and popular culture. Michael has written several books, including Haunting Illinois: A Tourist’s Guide to the Weird and Wild Places of the Prairie State, Paranormal Illinois, and Tales of Coles County. He is also the founder and proprietor of Black Oak Media, an independent publishing company.  He used to call the sad unhealthy city of Rockford, IL, home for a few years, but left it in 2014 for brighter, ethical, opportunistic job pastures in a healthier region of North America.

Rockford, ILMichael Kleen, author and former 2013 city of Rockford mayoral candidate, has contacted our staff with exclusive excerpts from his forthcoming 2015 book, Rockford Confidential.

Kleen briefly explained his forthcoming book to us: “Rockford Confidential is a fictional story. A political thriller – a mystery novel about white collar crime, conspiracy, corruption, and modern society. The protagonists are average people who are brought together because of their concern for their city. They are opposed by a self-serving political class that uses every means necessary to amass power and wealth for themselves and take it out of the hands of the average person, all while thinking they are brilliant and untouchable.”

Kleen, a 2013 city of Rockford mayoral candidate, confirmed that it’s based on his experiences in Rockford politics, but that all events and names have been changed. (Start sweating, $cumbags:  You know who you are.)

"Secret Rockford," By Michael Kleen

“Secret Rockford,” is one of more than a dozen books written by Michael Kleen. © 2014 Black Oak Media

Kleen left the northern Illinois region soon after losing the 2013 mayoral election to 3-time winner and community villain, Mayor Barry Morrisson.  More importantly, Kleen trumped all of us here in this pathetic town called Rockford by transforming his career elsewhere. He enlisted in the military. Which division you’re wondering? It’s classified as intelligence and communication; and that’s all we’re giving you, Rockford.

(Basically, you’re fucked if you unethically fucked with Michael while he was a Rockford area resident – attention, politician scumbags and marketing firm owners.)

Kleen has authored, published or contributed to at least 17 books  in the last 15 years.  His most recent book, “Secret Rockford,” was released in early 2014.

(Meanwhile, what have you done, Rockford? Ohhhh, that’s right, visioning, hoping, talking, meeting, HASHTAGGING, collecting data, telling internet stories, making internet videos, celebrating misery, misspending federal and state grants on the same fortunate, nepotistic individuals, sharing  negative facts and stats we’ve known about for 40 years and growing. Nothing.  You’ve done nothing. You continue to push young ambitious professional people like Michael Kleen out of Rockford. You excel at nothing, Rockfordians. #Top25by25 that.)

 See an updated list and author bio for Michael Kleen at Amazon.com by clicking here. 

Read an excerpt from Chapter 3 of Kleen’s forthcoming book, Rockford Confidential, below.

“The Council Chambers on the second floor of City Hall was unusually crowded before that particular Monday night City Council meeting. Star Taylor, the evening news reporter for WKTL Channel 39, busily set up her camera to get the best view of the proceedings. There were two other competing news stations in the Rockford area and she was told by her supervisors to always stay one step ahead. A clearer angle, a better interview, or a more compelling story could make a big difference in the ratings. Even though she was just reporting on City Council, normally a boring assignment that elicited as much excitement as watching mold grow, she was always conscious of the fact that larger networks recruited from local stations like hers. If their talent scouts liked the way she presented herself, she might get a ticket out of this second rate market.

Tonight was a particularly interesting night because the City Council was getting ready to vote on a proposal to buy the former Bjorn Watch Factory across the street from the Ingerburg Building, which had sat empty for nearly a decade. Purchased by the City after the Ingerburg Company went out of business, a hodgepodge of local politicians and civil servants planned to turn the former warehouse into an indoor sports complex. The Watch Factory would be torn down to accommodate a new parking lot for the proposed sports complex. Both of these buildings, along with the former Salvation Army Center and School District 301 headquarters, sat along Madison Avenue near the Rock River just south of the Morning Star building. These building were once part of Rockford’s south central manufacturing district, which went defunct over the previous two decades.

City Council meetings were scheduled to begin at 6pm, but as usual, aldermen and city staff began filtering in after 6:20. There were twelve aldermen on the City Council, each representing one of Rockford’s twelve wards. Dr. Dennis White (R), alderman of the First Ward and head of the Planning and Development Committee, was a local gynecologist. Albert Moore (R), alderman of the Second Ward, was a freshman who had been elected after the previous alderman retired. He worked at a nuclear power plant south of Rockford and missed more meetings than anyone else on the council. “Little” Bill Thompson (D), alderman of the Third Ward, was the son of a former Rockford mayor who had political aspirations of his own. Kevin Ford (R), alderman of the Fourth Ward, was a local real estate agent. He represented one of the wealthiest and most Republican areas of the city.

The Sixth Ward seat sat empty while the Mayor looked for a replacement for former alderman Leonard Lawrence.

Anna Torres, Felicity Rogers, Lois Coleman, and Brian Bailey, all Democrats, were aldermen of the Fifth, Seventh, Eighth, and Ninth wards respectively. Lois Coleman was chairman of the influential Code and Regulation Committee. Anna Torres was a notorious stick in the mud. She was nicknamed “Ms. No” for her tendency to vote against virtually any proposal. Her confused and muddled responses were often painful to listen to, but occasionally she raised issues that were important to her constituents. Many privately questioned her intelligence, but no one ever questioned her affection for or dedication to her neighbors.

Martha Wilson (R), alderman of the Eighth Ward, was another local realtor and one of the most senior members of the City Council. Eleventh Ward Alderman Carla Ramos (D), was owner of Winterwood, an organic and fair trade women’s boutique downtown. Steven Morris, alderman of the Twelfth Ward, was an Independent who mostly voted with the Republicans. He was the nephew of Richard Perry, who was the Democratic candidate for mayor in the last election.

It was an eclectic mashup of characters from all walks of life who represented a cross section of Rockford’s diverse population. While Alderman White always wore business suits, Alderman Ramos usually wore casual dresses and kicked off her shoes during City Council meetings (a practice that, if she had time to notice, would have made Star Taylor cringe).

After the aldermen settled into their seats around the semi-circle of sleek and modern-looking carrel desks, Mayor Terry Johnson came into the room from a side door. The area where the aldermen and City administrators sat was separated from the public gallery by a low railing. The Mayor sat behind an elevated desk at the front of the room facing the aldermen, while city staff occupied seats on either side of the room. Mayor Johnson slammed a wooden gavel on his desk and called the meeting to order. The chaplain gave the invocation and everyone stood for the Pledge of Allegiance.

That was quickly followed by public participation time. Four slots were allotted each week for members of the public to speak on any issue. They had to sign up for a spot (first come, first serve) a week in advance and had three minutes to state their case. Ordinarily, the same two or three individuals spoke at every meeting. Star Taylor found them eccentric at best, and she even caught several aldermen yawning or resting their eyes during their comments. One regular speaker was Louis Ray, a retired US Army veteran who frequently criticized Mayor Johnson and his administration. With his thick mustache, camo pants, and unkempt hair, he was certainly one of the most recognizable attendees at every City Council meeting. He was called to speak first, and he rose to the microphone.

“Fasten your seatbelts, folks,” he began in dramatic fashion. “I have, for much longer than 16 months of my involvement with the city proceedings, been quite clear, honest, sincere, and transparent about who I am and my position in the community. Some might even say, perhaps, to a fault, but I know who I am.

“I am a fierce warrior and defender of this great nation’s way of life. I am also the voice of the powerful silent majority—a sleeping giant, if you will. I loathe liars, deception, greed, and smokescreens. Unless, of course, I’m on the battlefield, where deception and smokescreens are common. I was taught—and by the very best, I might add—about war tactics, how to identify different types of smokescreens, and how to use them to my advantage.

“With that said, I will tell you my favorite quote: ‘Your actions speak so loud I can’t hear what you’re saying.’ So, here are just a few observations I have noted in your Mayor’s big top. On several occasions, I have witnessed this mayor use what I would call strong-arm tactics in dealing with some of our aldermen. I consistently hear the word ‘transparency’ from this mayor, but I also noticed that he manipulates and controls it as he sees fit.

“Oh, yes, the Mayor’s been a bad boy with City funds. From the dancing dollars, eye contact, facial expressions, and body language being done in here, I’m shocked there aren’t more dresses being worn. Nevertheless, I am thoroughly convinced there’s plenty of money to protect the citizens of Rockford, and not just this Mayor and his own neighborhood.

“I’ve been witness to this Mayor’s shell game for some time now. I’m just not sure under what shell, if any, the money is hidden. I would be amazed if the Mayor had less than $12-$15 million socked away for what he considers a rainy day. I challenge anyone to prove me wrong. These dollars are not for the Mayor to treat as his own personal piggy bank.

“On a number of occasions, I warned the Mayor not to mess with our personal safety. He often makes the police and fire chiefs dance to his music and appear as if they embrace his irresponsible views. I’m sorry for the way he has misused you folks, but I do commend you both for being professional.

“In 1980, I took an oath to protect this land from all enemies, both foreign and domestic. Terry Johnson, I told you before I don’t like soggy Cheerios, and you are hereby given notice that you are on my domestic enemy list. This is not the last you will hear or see of me, especially if you intend to run again. And now, I must wash my hands of you. That, my fellow citizens, is how you deal with bullies.”

The room was silent. As Ray stepped away from the microphone, Mayor Johnson’s face turned red. The Mayor tilted the microphone at his desk toward his lips and said simply, “Thank you. Next speaker, please.” There was a collective exhale from the public gallery, all except for one man, who was trying to suppress an amused grin. It was Joe Garcin, dressed in his usual dark jeans and gray sport coat, with a white dress shirt underneath. He repetitively tapped a pen against the pad of paper in his lap.

Garcin was in the gallery that evening gathering material for a future column. Ever since Ted Painter had alerted him to some eyebrow-raising coincidences involving property ownership around the Ingerburg Building, he had been paying close attention to developments in that neighborhood. He knew, for instance (and apparently none of the local media outlets had done any research on the property at all), that the fair market value of the Bjorn Watch Factory was no more than $147,000. Yet the City was preparing to buy it for $580,000.

Other properties in the area were owned by three or four different limited liability companies (LLCs). Those companies consisted of various partnerships between the same group of individuals, all of whom had close social ties with Mayor Johnson. They had purchased those properties at cut rate prices, and were all members of a nonprofit organization called the Rock River Development Association. The RRDA president, Dennis Larsson, had almost single handedly financed Mayor Johnson’s winning bid for election eight years ago. Was it illegal for the group to use their close ties with the Mayor’s office to give them a leg up in the real estate market? Joe Garcin did not know, but it sure smelled funny to him.

Now the City was getting ready to partner with the local Park District to pour millions of dollars in public funds into the Ingerburg Building to turn it into a publicly owned indoor sports complex. The completion of that project would almost certainly raise surrounding property values, resulting in healthy profits for the Mayor’s friends. Never mind the cost to the taxpayers, who would have to continue to subsidize the sports complex for generations to come. It was arrangements like these that, Garcin believed, Louis Ray had been referring to in his speech, although he could not tell whether Ray had done his research or whether he was just blindly hurling accusations.

With the public speakers finished, now came the committee recommendations to be put up for a vote. Most of the issues involved whether or not the City Council would approve applications for various business licenses. There were at least three or four of those a week. With those out of the way, Alderman White rose to introduce the most discussed issue of the evening.

“I move for the adoption of a Finance and Personnel Committee Report recommending the matter of a purchase agreement for the Bjorn Watch Factory, 321 Madison Street,” He said. “I would like to introduce a report recommending the City Council adopt an Ordinance authorizing the Mayor and Legal Director to execute the agreements and documents necessary to purchase said property for $580,000 to be satisfied in personal property valued at $25,655 and cash in the amount of $554,345. Further, real estate taxes due for the current year prorated to the date of closing shall be satisfied by the City.”

“Is there any discussion?” The Mayor asked.

Alderman Torres raised her hand and then leaned into the microphone at her carrel desk. “Yes,” she began, “I just want to say that I’m uncomfortable with the amount of money cited in this amendment. Why are we paying top dollar for a building that we’re just going to tear down and pave over? How much will that demolition and construction cost? And if this parking lot is going to be included as part of the sports complex, has there been any discussion with the Park District about them sharing some of that cost? These are all concerns that I and some of my people have.”

Alderman Torres was notorious for referring to her constituents as “her people.” She had once come under fire for suggesting that a political opponent had no business being in the race because he “didn’t look like most of the people in her neighborhood.” The residents of her ward, located on Rockford’s west side, were predominantly black and Hispanic, although redistricting had recently brought in more Caucasians.

Alderman White rolled his eyes and looked up at the Mayor. Mayor Johnson waited a moment to see whether anymore hands were raised, then called the motion for a vote. It passed eight to three, with aldermen Torres, Rogers, and Ramos casting the dissenting votes. Joe Garcin was surprised the vote had not been more one-sided. Although alderman occasionally publicly disagreed with a motion, they very rarely voted against it. Votes in Rockford’s City Council were notoriously one-sided. No one wanted to be called a stick in the mud or be accused of holding up Rockford’s progress, which the Mayor frequently accused his critics of doing.

“The motion has passed,” Mayor Johnson said. “The Legal Director shall prepare the appropriate ordinance.”

With the vote concluded, Star Taylor packed up her camera equipment and headed out the door. There she would set it back up in the hallway and wait for one of the more prominent aldermen to come out after the meeting. She would ask him or her how he or she felt about the Bjorn Watch Factory vote, and then race to the news room to edit the footage into a usable story just in time for the nine o’clock news. The television news business was fast and furious, and demanded reporters with a certain drive, finesse, and a copious amount of hairspray.”

Chapter 3 Excerpt of “Rockford Confidential”
All Rights Reserved © Michael Kleen  |
 Limited rights granted to rkfdnews.com for this article  | Reproduction not permitted without written consent provided by the author.

 



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