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Dateline Dixon: Don't rush to judgment on government form

Published: Wednesday, April 24, 2013 1:15 a.m. CDT • Updated: Wednesday, April 24, 2013 11:08 a.m. CDT

DIXON – November 2014 may seem like a long time to wait for residents hungry for change.

That's the earliest a petition can be placed on the ballot to either eliminate the commission form of government in Dixon or adopt a new form of government, such as a managerial form, which is in place in Sterling.

The good news for skeptics: Dixon residents will be the sole decision makers when it comes time to decide a form of government, not the City Council, nor a governmental task force.

That also means residents will have a special opportunity and responsibility: Their votes will set the course of the city's government for years to come.

A petition with a signature of one out of every 10 residents who voted in the last mayoral election is needed to put a referendum on the November 2014 ballot asking whether to adopt the managerial form.

And a petition with a signature from 25 percent of residents who voted in the last mayoral elections is needed to put a referendum up on whether to abolish the commission form.

My advice to Dixon: Don't get swept up in the frenzy and make up your mind just yet. There's plenty of time for that.

Many commenters on Sauk Valley Media's website, on Facebook or at City Council meetings have made up their mind, focusing on adopting a city manager form of government.

State law allows five forms of government: aldermanic, commission, managerial, strong mayor, and trustee. What makes managerial the best? What are the strengths and weaknesses of each?

A good number of people have cited the commission form of government as the reason former Comptroller Rita Crundwell was able to steal nearly $54 million from city funds or why former City Engineer Shawn Ortgiesen was able to use city-issued credit cards for personal use.

Is it possible the form of government isn't to blame? Why do 49 municipalities retain the commission form of government? What value do they see in it?

Don't get me wrong, this is not a column in favor of one form or the other.

This is about making the most of the built-in waiting period before any referenda can be put on the ballot, questioning what's best for the city and making a well-informed decision.

While a vote cannot come until November 2014, the meetings and discussions start Thursday with the naming of Police Chief Danny Langloss as special assistant to the City Council.

Mayor Jim Burke said the City Council plans to hire a city administrator in the next 3 to 6 months. With that, the City Council will adopt a job description outlining the administrator's role. It can give him or her as little or as much power as it wishes.

Also, a governmental task force charged with examining the commission form of government and other forms will meet for the first time May 1 at City Hall. All of its meetings will be public.

All the while, Sauk Valley Media will be asking its own questions and examining the issues surrounding the changes at City Hall.

Changing the form of government is a big decision. With all that's happened to Dixon, its residents owe it to themselves to do all they can to make the right one.

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