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End of ‘coffee funds’

Finance director institutes policy to report sale of salvageable items

Published: Saturday, April 13, 2013 1:15 a.m. CDT

DIXON – Mayor Jim Burke said Friday that the city recently ended a practice that had allowed departments to hold and spend hundreds of dollars in city funds at their own discretion.

About 3 weeks ago, in light of a “coffee fund scandal” at Northern Illinois University, Dixon Finance Director Paula Meyer asked city employees whether they kept petty cash on hand. At NIU, employees admitted to selling recyclable materials and using proceeds as a fund for personal expenses.

Many of the city’s departments had, too, Meyer said Friday, to the tune of about $600 to $700 total.

While the amount was petty when compared to the nearly $54 million former comptroller Rita Crundwell stole from city funds, or even the $13,500 that City Engineer Shawn Ortgiesen used for personal items on a city-issued credit card, Meyer put a new practice into place.

All funds are now given to her office and transferred into miscellaneous revenue in the city’s general fund. They are now accounted for, she said.

“I didn’t know what the city’s procedures were, and when the whole NIU thing came out, I said, ‘I don’t know how we’ve been doing this in the past, but it has to go into city’s funds,’” said Meyer, who was hired in August to replace Crundwell.

“All the department heads brought [the money] right in. It wasn’t a problem.”

This money once kept off the city’s books was accumulated through the sale of such things as salvageable equipment or scrap metal found at construction sites.

Burke said department directors would spend the money within their own departments. For example, snowplow drivers would use the money to buy pizzas on long shifts. A meal allowance is one of the items in the drivers’ contract.

Department directors now have to ask Meyer to issue them checks or petty cash for meal allowances, or anything of that nature. Also, they must turn in funds from any sales of city property.

No employees are expected to be punished for using these funds, Burke said, because it was a common practice.

“There’s no evidence of anybody doing anything wrong with this money,” Burke said. “Again, this is something that came about as we are trying to institute some good business practices.”

While it was common at one time in Sterling for departments to keep petty cash from the sale of salvageable items, City Manager Scott Shumard said the custom has since changed.

“It changed before me,” said Shumard, who interned with Sterling starting in 1999 and worked there until being named city manager in 2007. “Years before, it was customary for a surplus piece of equipment to go back to that department.”

For example, Public Works recently removed scrap from the former Lawrence Brothers Building. That scrap was sold, and the date that sales proceeds were received was entered into the city’s records by the finance department, along with the check number from the scrap dealer.

“Items like scrap are city assets, not departmental assets,” Shumard said of Sterling’s policy.

Rock Falls City Administrator Robbin Blackert says it’s important that all city assets are accounted for. In Rock Falls, the revenue is credited to whatever department sold the scrap. It is listed as miscellaneous, or sale of junk.

“They are not allowed to have a slush fund,” Blackert said of city employees. “That is an inappropriate practice.”

Investigation will be handed over to Sterling Police

DIXON – The Sterling Police Department will handle the criminal investigation into Dixon City Engineer Shawn Ortgiesen's possible misuse of a city-issued card, Dixon Police Chief Danny Langloss said Friday.

To avoid even the appearance of a conflict of interest by his department, Langloss said, he met with the Lee County state's attorney's office on Wednesday and decided to hand off the investigation to Sterling's police.

Ortgiesen, who also is Dixon's director of public works and personnel, tallied more than $13,500 in personal expenses on a city-issued credit card from April 2007 to last month, according to city officials. He paid back about $5,000, but left a balance of $8,630.83 unpaid.

Langloss said the city will cooperate fully with the investigation.

Two meetings

The Dixon City Council's regular meeting will begin at 6:30 p.m. Monday at City Hall, 121 W. Second St.

The council will also meet at 1 p.m. Thursday at City Hall to take public comments before going into executive session to discuss the employment status of City Engineer Shawn Ortgiesen.

Go to www.discoverdixon.org and click on "Citizens Information Center" or call City Hall, 815-288-1485, for agendas.

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