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Mayor denies knowing of personal credit card use

City's prior system at fault, Burke says

Published: Friday, April 19, 2013 7:11 p.m. CDT • Updated: Friday, April 19, 2013 11:46 p.m. CDT

DIXON – Mayor Jim Burke issued a written statement Friday to say he had no knowledge that former City Engineer Shawn Ortgiesen was using a city-issued credit card for personal use, despite the fact Burke signed off on two requisitions from Ortgiesen.

Ortgiesen, who also was the city's director of public works and personnel, resigned this week after it was revealed he owed $8,630.83 in personal expenses on a city credit card from April 2007 to last month. He has since paid off that amount, plus 5 percent interest.

As is common practice, Ortgiesen filed requisitions recording his credit card expenses.

Of the 31 requisitions dating back to 2005 that Sauk Valley Media received through a request under the Freedom of Information Act, Ortgiesen wrote "to be reimbursed" next to several items on 27 of them, noting at times the expenses were for personal purchases.

The mayor signed off on two of those – in November 2011 and again in June 2012.

Commissioner Dennis Considine signed off on two – in January and February 2012.

Also, one requisition in October 2011 appears to have Finance Commissioner Dave Blackburn's signature, and another in December 2010 appears to have former Finance Commissioner Roy Bridgeman's signature.

The others were not signed.

"The requisition forms Shawn submitted did not clearly show that some expenses were personal," Burke wrote. "At no time prior to [a recent conversation] did Shawn acknowledge or explain how he was using his credit card."

Burke added: "These notations, which were for generally described expense items, did not state to whom or from whom reimbursement was to be made or why. I mistakenly thought that these were expenses to be reimbursed to Shawn or to be reimbursed from another source."

Earlier this week, Considine said he had made a mistake by signing the requisitions without fully reviewing them, and Blackburn said he would reserve comment after he saw the mayor's statement.

Burke said in the statement that Ortgiesen's misuse of the card first became known March 27, after he asked Finance Director Paula Meyer and her staff, 12 days prior to then, to conduct an internal audit of city credit cards.

Burke said he called for an investigation when irregularities were discovered in Ortgiesen's expenses "to determine whether there was an innocent explanation for these personal charges."

Ortgiesen told Burke he was sometimes using the credit card for personal use and that he owed about $8,000. Burke said that's when he put Ortgiesen on paid administrative leave.

Burke said the city pays its credit card bill each month, and to his knowledge, the city did not carry an outstanding balance.

Burke admitted the system did not prevent Ortgiesen from misusing credit cards.

Ortgiesen used the card for personal use only twice after the April 17, 2012, arrest of former Comptroller Rita Crundwell, who would have been overseeing his expenses. Her arrest for stealing $54 million from the city over the last two decades prompted Meyer's hiring, and even the internal audit of credit cards.

Meyer, whose signature appears on just one requisition that Ortgiesen marked "personal expense to be reimbursed to the city," said she's guilty of overlooking the charges – which were a $5 meal at McDonald's and $20 at Stop n' Go.

Since she implemented new financial software in January, credit card requisitions signed by Meyer, related receipts, and statements are submitted to the accounts payable clerk. That clerk enters the data into the computer.

After the data is entered, the deputy city clerk cuts the checks to pay the bill. All bills are reviewed and approved at the next City Council meeting.

Meyer is in charge of overseeing the policy, and admits she made a mistake.

"You review a huge stack of these, and sometimes your eyes glaze over it," said Meyer, who indicated about 20 requisitions come in at one time. "'Does it excuse our mistake?' No. Unfortunately, it does happen, but we're hopeful the practices we put into place will stop it."

Meyer added that the accounts payable clerk is prevented by the software from cutting a check, just as the deputy city clerk is prevented from putting data into the computer.

"This assures we have many different eyes watching over our finances," Meyer said. "I've empowered our staff that if they have any questions or if they see anything funny, to bring it directly to my attention. In the past [under Crundwell], this wasn't the case."

Burke said he was unaware of any other personal use of credit cards, adding that the discovery was made because the city was practicing better controls.

"The city is striving for, and its citizens should expect, stronger internal controls," Burke said.

The mayor said he has asked the finance director to survey city department heads as to their need for city-issued credit cards.

"This report should illuminate whether such cards are necessary and who should have them," Burke said. "Based on that report, the city will then develop and implement an informed credit card policy."

Document: Read Burke's written statement

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