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Dixon taking steps in the right direction

The city of Dixon’s decision to seek out and hire a professional administrator is a good one. While that’s a step in the right direction, continued accountability, openness, and sensitivity to the will of the people are needed to regain the public’s trust.

Published: Wednesday, April 24, 2013 1:15 a.m. CDT

Ex-Comptroller Rita Crundwell’s theft of nearly $54 million from taxpayers, first made public a year ago, was a huge red flag that all was not well with Dixon city government.

As glaring as that scandal was, it has taken two smaller scandals this month to accelerate the process toward change.

The first is ex-City Engineer Shawn Ortgiesen’s use of a city credit card for about $13,500 in personal expenses.

The second is existence of “coffee funds” in various city departments, where hundreds of dollars in city funds was held off the books and spent at department directors’ discretion.

By resigning last week, Ortgiesen did the right thing. He repaid the balance of the amount due the city, plus interest.

And the “coffee funds” are no more. Department directors now must ask the finance director to issue checks or petty cash for meal allowances or other similar expenses. Money from any city-owned items sold or scrapped by departments must be turned in to the finance director.

The city’s loosey-goosey, amateurish approach toward handling its finances has thus been further reformed, but plenty of work remains.

We believe the proposal to appoint Police Chief Danny Langloss as a temporary special assistant to the city council has the potential to add more professionalism to the administration of city government.

And Mayor Jim Burke’s declaration that the city would move toward hiring a professional administrator within the next 3 to 6 months could well put Dixon on the road toward greater efficiency, accountability and honesty.

Dixon has had the commission form of government for a long time. Having elected lay officeholders supervise complicated departments is what Dixon is accustomed to. But it’s a system where, it seems, everybody’s in charge but nobody’s responsible.

That flaw was clearly on display when the mayor, two commissioners, and even the finance director, apparently unknowingly, signed off several times on Ortgiesen’s use of a city credit card for personal use.

Burke’s admission that the city needs professional help is a turning point.

Burke, the council, and Langloss need to clearly and publicly define the proposed duties of the new city administrator. We understand the idea is to hire an individual who could perform the job of administrator or city manager, depending on what transpires in the future.

Once hired, however, the new administrator must be held accountable by the City Council. That person’s performance must not be left to chance.

Dixon’s battered city government finally seems to be on the right track. Only with continued accountability, openness, and sensitivity to the will of the people can the city regain the public’s trust.

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