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Accusations fly in city races

Financial records in dispute

Published: Monday, April 8, 2013 1:15 a.m. CDT
Caption
Bob Sisler
Caption
Carl Bates

MOUNT CARROLL – Members of many government boards have a go-along-to-get-along attitude, but that’s not the case in Mount Carroll.

More than 2 years ago, Alderwomen Doris Bork and Nina Cooper looked at payroll records and said they found that some employees recorded more hours on their time sheets than the time clock showed.

Their investigation angered the council majority, and Cooper lost her bid for re-election some months later.

Since then, Alderman Bob Sisler has joined Bork and Cooper in questioning city finances.

Tuesday, Sisler will oppose incumbent Carl Bates in the race for mayor. Cooper is challenging City Clerk Julie Cuckler, who handles city finances.

Bork, meanwhile, faces two opponents in her re-election bid.

Last year, Bork, Cooper and Sisler questioned the city’s handling of a loan to a nonprofit group. For a year, they noted, the group’s nonprofit status had lapsed with the state.

They also inquired why the size of the cemetery endowment fund went up and down, even though it received no donations.

More recently, the trio have questioned the unexplained appearance of $8,000 in the school crossing guard fund in December. In 2008, the City Council eliminated that fund.

“Miraculously, 4 years later, the $8,000 showed up,” Sisler said at a recent council meeting.

Cuckler called it an adjusting entry and nothing to be alarmed about.

“You will never see it again,” she told the council.

Bates said the city would seek an answer from the city’s auditing firm. But the auditor’s written response didn’t deal with the issue at hand – why the money showed up in an account so long after it was eliminated and how the money got there.

In an interview, Sisler, 70, a retired federal employee, said he thinks the city’s finances are unstable at best.

“We often overspend,” he said. “There’s impulsive spending.”

Bates couldn’t be reached for comment.

‘I have nothing to hide’

Some council members have suggested a forensic audit. Bates, a Cuckler ally, said such an exhaustive look at city finances would put questions to rest.

In a January meeting, Risko said some people are accusing the city of doing “illegal things,” but they have no evidence.

Cuckler told the council that if it pursued an audit, “I have nothing to hide.”

“There is no money gone or stolen,” she said. “I’ve had enough of this stuff.”

Cuckler then told the council that she had heard secondhand that Bork had gone around town saying the clerk had taken money.

Bork denied it.

“I haven’t said it firsthand,” she said.

In an interview, Cooper said the city has serious issues with its recordkeeping.

“On the issue with the crossing guard fund, it was closed in 2008, and the auditor made adjustments then. She [Cuckler] made no reference with the auditor that the whole issue had come up again in 2012,” Cooper said. “Her explanation doesn’t hold up. The numbers in the reports are utterly unreliable.”

Boxing gloves for council meetings?

MOUNT CARROLL – Every candidate in Mount Carroll has an opponent in the April 9 election, and that includes members of the City Council.

In recent years, council meetings have become contentious events, with one candidate saying that participants need boxing gloves.

In Ward 1, Alderman Doug Bergren is facing Jeanne Schnitzler, who served on the council in the 1990s.

In Ward 2. Alderwoman Doris Bork has two opponents: Joe Grim, a county animal control officer, and Wayne Knight.

In Ward 3, Alderman Mike Risko faces Percy Vesperman, who said he likes it when council members ask questions.

Bergren, 61, said tensions began to rise on the council when Bork and then-Alderwoman Nina Cooper revealed they had found discrepancies in payroll records more than 2 years ago.

"We had one accounting firm look at it, and they found nothing wrong with the city payroll," Bergren said. "Another firm also found nothing wrong. According to Nina Cooper, they were wrong."

He said Alderman Bob Sisler, who is seeking to unseat Mayor Carl Bates, has joined with Bork and Cooper, but "to a slightly lesser extent."

"I love Mount Carroll with a passion," said Bergren, an economic development consultant. But he said the disputes in the city government don't bode well for people thinking of moving here.

"It's a bad reflection for the town," he said. "I'm very concerned about the impression that Mount Carroll is giving outside the community."

At the same time, he said he has seen positives.

"We only have one or two vacant storefronts. Our downtown is coming back," Bergren said. "It's due to people moving here and making heavy investments."

His opponent, Jeanne Schnitzler, 53, a homemaker, said she is running because of the way city water appears.

"My water looks like the Mississippi River," she said. "They need to start flushing these hydrants. They are afraid to flush them."

She has attended a couple of City Council meetings recently, saying members should bring boxing gloves. The mayor, she said, needs to do a better job of controlling meetings.

The city's finances also concern Schnitzler.

"With the crossing guard fund, one month the money is there, then it's not there," she said. "I don't know where [City Clerk] Julie [Cuckler] is getting her figures."

In February, Vesperman, who is running against Risko, told the council he wants aldermen who question the city's finances.

He said Dixon suffered because it had no inquiring members while the city comptroller stole $54 million.

Bork, 69, said her city's finances are improving.

"In December 2011, we were $20,000 in the hole. Now, the finances are better," she said. But she said she was concerned with transfers between the city's funds.

Risko declined to comment to Sauk Valley Media, saying he had submitted information to his local newspaper, the Carroll County Mirror-Democrat. Vesperman, his opponent, couldn't be reached for comment, nor could Grim or Knight, who are facing Bork.

Mount Carroll candidates

MAYOR

Carl Bates

Government experience: Mayor of Mount Carroll

Bob Sisler

Age: 70

Family: Wife, Darlene Sisler; four children, Josh Sisler, Joe Sisler, Scott Sisler and Sheri Benters

Education: Graduate of Mount Carroll High School; graduate of University of Illinois

Occupation: Retired from the federal government

Government experience: Two years on City Council

CITY CLERK

Julie Cuckler

Government experience: City clerk of Mount Carroll

Nina Cooper

Age: Declined to state

Family: Son, Peter Shinn

Education: Graduate of Council Rock High School in Newtown, Pa.; bachelor's degree from Bucknell University in Lewisburg, Pa.; master's degree in business administration from Northwestern University in finance and international business; currently enrolled in master of public administration program at Northern Illinois University

Occupation: Self-employed

Government experience: Four years on City Council

CITY COUNCIL, WARD 1

Doug Bergren

Age: 61

Family: Wife, Laurel

Education: Graduate of Freeport High School; bachelor's degree in management from Columbia College in Freeport

Occupation: Economic development consultant for East Dundee, Ill.; three tours in Vietnam while in Army

Government experience: Eight years on City Council

Jeanne Schnitzler

Age: 53

Family: Children, Jamie James, Jan Cox, Korey Kessler, J.R. Schnitzler, Nathan Schnitzler; eight grandchildren

Education: Attended Mount Carroll High School

Occupation: Homemaker

CITY COUNCIL, WARD 2

Doris Bork

Age: 69

Family: Husband, Gerald; five daughters, Bonnie Miller, Brenda Scudder, Barbara Eyerly, Beverly Giorgi and Jerylen Meyer

Education: Graduate of Lanark High School; attended Highland Community College

Occupation: Part time at Shaw's grocery store in Mount Carroll, worked for 17 years as a bookkeeper

Government experience: Nine years on City Council

Joe Grim

Occupation: Carroll County animal control officer

Wayne Knight

CITY COUNCIL, WARD 3

Mike Risko

Government experience: Member of City Council

Percy Vesperman

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