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Out Here: In post-Crundwell Dixon, no heads rolled

An old shoe is comfortable. It fits. At least that’s the way it is for me.

Apparently, Dixon city officials also like their old shoes.

As it is, 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.

Only six of the cities with the commission form are bigger than Dixon. Most of the others, including Oregon and Tampico, are far smaller.

Many people in Dixon want a professional city manager. Those calls increased after the Rita Crundwell scandal surfaced a year ago.

In response, Mayor Jim Burke promised to form a task force to look into different forms of government. He appointed its members in December; the panel has yet to meet.

Shawn Ortgiesen, the city’s public works director and city engineer, has long been considered the de facto city manager. But here’s the rub with de facto status – the manager gets the powers but is not held accountable. If the city had a real manager, that head would have rolled post-Crundwell. Ortgiesen stayed. In fact, he got an $8,000 raise to $118,000 and given personnel duties.

Of course, as we found out this week, Ortgiesen is under investigation for misuse of his city-issued credit card.

In October, we interviewed three of the four Dixon City Council members, and they were upbeat about how things were going in city government.

Dennis Considine, the commissioner of public health and safety, said criticism of Dixon’s form of government is “Monday morning quarterbacking.”

“I certainly believe in the form of government we have,” he said. “It works as well as any form of government. I’m positive about it.”

What about the Crundwell scandal?

“It wouldn’t have mattered what form of government we had.”

Jeff Kuhn, commissioner of streets and public improvements, agreed.

“I have some trouble with people believing that if we had a city manager, none of this would have happened,” he said. “It’s not the form of government that caused this to happen; it was the person.”

Colleen Brechon, commissioner of public property, praised the city’s direction.

“The council has very dedicated members. Shawn Ortgiesen is the city engineer involved in all aspects of city business. He is very competent. I am very confident working with him and the city attorney,” she said.

All three, elected in 2011, supported the idea of a task force.

To their credit, they answered our questions about the issue. Their colleague, David Blackburn, commissioner of finance and accounts, wouldn’t talk, saying he would reserve his comments for council meetings.

His post-Crundwell silence is frustrating, especially because he could shed some light on these issues, given he has been a member of the council for more than two decades.

Could you imagine if the Dixon City Council hired a manager like Sterling’s Scott Shumard? Whatever your opinion of him, Shumard has the training to manage a city, he keeps close track of money, and compares the city’s numbers to others.

If one of Shumard’s subordinates made off with $54 million – or far less – without anyone noticing, you could be sure his head would roll. Very quickly.

No heads rolled in Dixon.

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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