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Credit-card scandal exposes city's flaws

Dixon's flawed commission form of government has allowed a second city employee to use tax dollars for personal purchases. The lack of accountability is shocking. A new form of government must be recommended soon.

Published: Wednesday, April 17, 2013 1:15 a.m. CDT

Today, April 17, should have been a day when city of Dixon officials could congratulate themselves on how far they have come after Rita Crundwell’s $53.7 million theft scandal broke a year ago.

Instead, a new scandal resonates in City Hall. Former City Engineer Shawn Ortgiesen and his use of a city credit card to make about $13,500 in personal purchases over 6 years exposed anew the city’s flawed commission form of government.

Tuesday afternoon came the announcement that Ortgiesen, who was suspended with pay last week, was stepping down. Before his suspension April 8, Ortgiesen had repaid about $4,900 of his credit card debt. As he resigned, he also repaid the rest, about $8,600, along with interest.

Ortgiesen’s resignation came after new, troubling documentation was released Monday by the city of Dixon in response to a Freedom of Information Act request by Sauk Valley Media.

In at least six credit card requisitions filed by Ortgiesen, signatures or initials of approval were apparently made by Mayor Jim Burke and Finance Commissioner David Blackburn. Commissioner Dennis Considine volunteered that he had initialed a few requisitions himself.

The requisitions show numerous personal purchases by Ortgiesen, along with notations of his intent to reimburse the city.

According to the documents, Ortgiesen pulled out his city credit card to pay for personal expenses at gas stations, Walmart, Menards, restaurants, Chicago hotels, air fare, a rental car in Florida, and even a $5 meal at McDonald’s.

It should go without saying that a government employee such as Ortgiesen should never be allowed to use the city of Dixon treasury for personal use.

However, the city has no formal written policy that bans employees from using city credit cards for personal use.

And remember, we are talking about the city of Dixon, where for more than 20 years, ex-Comptroller Crundwell secretly plundered city accounts and spent millions of tax dollars on her lavish lifestyle.

By their signatures and initials, Burke, Blackburn and Considine – knowingly or unknowingly – condoned Ortgiesen’s conduct. Ortgiesen’s resignation does not take them off the hook.

By resigning, Ortgiesen made the right decision – a decision we urged him to make in an editorial last week.

We renew our call for the City Council to end its amateurish approach to governing Dixon by hiring a professional city manager who has no connection to the current scandals.

The money is now freed up to do that, in the form of Ortgiesen’s $118,000-a-year salary.

In addition, we renew our call for the identification and implementation of a city government that is superior to the commission form.

That study, to be undertaken by a seven-person task force approved Feb. 4 by the City Council, plans its first meeting on May 1.

Frankly, the task force must approach its job with a greater sense of urgency.

We recommend a deadline of July 1 be set for the completion of the task force’s work.

Dixon needs to put these financial scandals behind it. That won’t happen until the flawed commission form of government – where accountability slips through the cracks and where two employees used the city treasury for their own purposes – is consigned to the ash heap of history.

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