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'You dropped the ball': Angry residents call for change

Published: Friday, April 12, 2013 1:45 a.m. CST
Caption
(Alex T. Paschal/apaschal@saukvalley.com)
Dion Day, 38, of Dixon, calls out Mayor Jim Burke and other City Council members at Thursday's meeting. "A captain with integrity goes down with the ship ... as citizens, we look at it as you guys dropped the ball and you're still here, like nothing happened," Day said.

DIXON – Business owner Li Arellano told the City Council Thursday that it's time for a new form of local government.

The soonest a change in government can made, however, is the next election, in November 2014, according to Illinois law.

Arellano's remarks were met with applause from about 50 people who crowded into City Council chambers at a special meeting where commissioners said they would take no action just yet with Shawn Ortgiesen, city engineer and director of public works and personnel.

(Raw video) Part 1: Dixon City Council Meeting Concerning Shawn Ortgiesen

(Raw video) Part 2: Dixon City Council Meeting Concerning Shawn Ortgiesen

Almost a year after trusted comptroller Rita Crundwell was arrested for stealing nearly $54 million from city funds over the course of 20 years, an internal audit discovered that Ortgiesen tallied more than $13,500 in personal expenses on a city-issued credit card from April 2007 to last month. He paid back about $5,000, but left a balance of $8,630.83 unpaid.

Many residents showed up Thursday afternoon to voice opinions and to hear whether commissioners would fire Ortgiesen. Frances Ayars held a sign outside of City Hall that said "Fire Ort."

Of the 10 who commented at the meeting, some called for Mayor Jim Burke and Finance Commissioner David Blackburn to resign; others, like Arellano, said it's time for the city's commission form of government to go.

"It's not working," Arellano said. "No corporation would put a $10 million to $25 million business in five part-time commissioners' hands."

According to state statute, petition signatures equal to at least 25 percent of the number of votes cast for the candidates for mayor at the last municipal election would be needed to ask voters if they want to dump the commission form of government, or 10 percent would be needed to adopt the city manager form.

If enough signatures are gathered, the question could appear on the ballot at the next November election.

Burke has put together a task force to explore the city's commission form, in which each department head is responsible for his or her department, with no direct oversight.

The task force, made up of Bill Wadsworth, Tom Shaw, Jack Schrauth, Kelly Allen, Jim Marshall, the Rev. Michael Cole and Marilyn Coffey, is expected to meet next month.

Emotions ran high at times at Thursday's meeting, where angry residents saying closure over City Hall scandals will not come until the mayor and commissioners hold themselves accountable.

"A captain with integrity goes down with the ship," Dion Day said. "We still have you Mayor Burke and you, Mr. Blackburn. ... You may not have had anything to do with it, but as citizens, we look at it as you guys dropped the ball and you're still here, like nothing happened."

Others went as far as to call for resignations, and word spread at the meeting that there is a petition going around to remove Burke.

Illinois does not allow for elected officials at the municipal level to be removed from office through a recall vote, said Larry Frang of the Illinois Municipal League.

Elected officials cannot be removed unless they fail to perform their duties, move out of district or commit a felony, Frang said.

"Even if you think we're a bunch of dumb hillbilly rednecks, that does not matter, we are your bosses," Jordan Bowman told council members, adding that the people will get to make their determination at the next municipal election in 2 years.

Bowman also cited a quote from former President Ronald Reagan: "'Government does not tell the people what it can and cannot do, we the people tell the government what it can and cannot do.'"

To attend

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

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

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

Related: Getting the boot? Decision on Ortgiesen could come next week

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