DIXON – Mayor Jim Burke’s goal is to complete appointments for a governmental task force evaluating Dixon’s form of government at the City Council’s Jan. 21 meeting.
In reaction to former comptroller Rita Crundwell’s theft of nearly $54 million from the city over 20 years, Burke vowed this summer to create a task force exploring the different types of government, including the city’s current commission form of government, and recommending which is best for Dixon.
After conversations with city commissioners and employees, the mayor created a short list of 10 people to make a seven- or nine-member governmental task force. Burke is in the process of contacting those people.
“I don’t want anybody on this with an agenda or preconceived opinion,” Burke said. “That could be hard to flush out. Everybody on here should have an open mind, a real interest and be well-qualified to study this thing.”
Those selected will be not be paid, however, Burke will ask the City Council to budget “a couple thousand dollars” to cover any out-of-pocket expenses, such as travel or phone calls.
While commissioners Dennis Considine, Colleen Brechon and Jeff Kuhn do not believe the form of government is to blame for Crundwell’s theft, they have said they are open to the task force study. Commissioner David Blackburn has not commented publicly on the subject.
“This is going to take a commitment from those on the task force,” Burke said. “We want them to talk to other municipalities about their various forms of government, what their experience has been, etc.”
Burke hopes a task force can give city commissioners both a spread of information on the five forms of government available in Illinois for municipalities, as well as a recommendation.
State law allows five forms of government: aldermanic, commission, managerial, strong mayor and trustee. Sterling, for instance, has a managerial form of government.
Dixon is one of 49 municipalities in Illinois with the commission form of government, which puts part-time commissioners in charge of areas of a municipal government.
The city has elected commissioners for accounts and finance, public property, public health and safety and streets and public improvements.
Only six of the cities are larger than Dixon – Zion, East Peoria, Marion, Mattoon, Pekin and Ottawa.
Once a recommendation is made, the City Council will have to make its own decision. If members decide to make a change of government, it will go on the ballot as a referendum.
In 1990, former Mayor James Dixon and others put a referendum on the ballot to adopt the city manager form of government. Only 25 percent of voters supported it. Dixon spoke up again in May with a letter to the editor, asking for residents to revive the idea.
Burke is optimistic the task force can provide the City Council and residents with all the necessary information to make a decision on Dixon’s form of government moving forward.
“If there is some kind of change we ask to be made, then it adds credibility to the public that we had an independent board without any agenda making a recommendation,” Burke said. “I also want them to include what kinds of cost would be involved in this sort of change. We want them to provide as many details.”