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Ears are ringing in Mount Carroll

Mount Carroll is a beautiful town – hilly and full of historic buildings. But it also has become a town with heated politics.

I've done a few stories in recent months about city issues. This week, I attended a Mount Carroll City Council meeting.

One council tradition is particularly endearing. At the meeting's beginning, the mayor asks someone to pull a rope to ring an outside bell. It's to let the town know their leaders are convening.

I'm told that the bell-ringing tradition goes back years – probably to the days when American downtowns were full of people, before the days of TV.

After this week's ringing, it quickly became clear that there's not a lot of love on the council.

When council members talked about the possibility of a forensic audit, City Clerk Julie Cuckler, who is in charge of city finances, accused Alderwoman Doris Bork of going around town saying the clerk is stealing money.

Bork said she had not. In 2011, though, she examined payroll records, finding instances where employees marked down more hours on their timesheets than the time clock showed.

I've seen what she's talking about. The employees could have good reasons for the discrepancies. Rather than getting to the bottom of the issue, the city's first reaction was defensive. Mayor Carl Bates told council members that they couldn't view any records outside of his presence and that they must give him their reasons for seeking documents beforehand.

He acknowledged this week that he issued those rules in the heat of the moment. They no longer apply.

City Attorney Ron Coplan wrote the mayor a letter about a story in Lanark's Prairie Advocate about the payroll dispute, chastising those who raised the issue publicly.

"Contacting the news media and giving statements and information to the news media is divisive to the workings and working relationships within the council, with the mayor, and with the employees," Coplan wrote.

At the recent council meeting, Mount Carroll businessman Leonard Anderson said he was upset that a story appeared in Sauk Valley Media about the city's loan agreement with a nonprofit group. Bork and Alderman Bob Sisler contended the deal involved a number of conflicts of interest.

"If you have a problem, fix it, but not in the newspaper," Anderson told the council.

Here's another idea: Fix the problems, yes. But don't dwell, as Anderson and Coplan apparently do, on negative newspaper publicity.

David Giuliani is a reporter for Sauk Valley Media. He can be reached at dgiuliani@saukvalley or at 800-798-4085, ext. 525. 

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