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Larry Lough

Lots to keep Crundwell story alive for years

Like any interesting woman, Rita Crundwell will be hard to forget.

Now that her state charges have been dismissed, and a federal prison sentence of 19 years, 7 months awaits, what should we do about the saga of the city’s $54 million swindle?

Move on?

Put it in the past?

Not likely.

AND IT’S NOT JUST the media that will keep this story alive for decades to come.

With restitution totals ... with anniversary stories ... with prison life updates.

We have already circled our calendars for Rita’s likely release in 2029.

But beyond all that, the administration of city government in Dixon will change forever.

And whatever governing model is put into place, it will always be a reminder of the circumstances under which it was created.

Yes, we will remember Ms. Crundwell for a good long time.

LEE COUNTY STATE’S Attorney Anna Sacco-Miller received largely favorable reviews for her decision this week to forgo prosecution on 60 charges of theft against the disgraced former city comptroller.

That estimated $300,000 price tag for an out-of-county trial was a nice play.

But Crundwell, who has zealously guarded her privacy since her arrest, clearly would want no part of a made-for-TV trial with cameras following her inside and out of the courtroom for weeks.

She would have bargained a plea, which – as the state’s attorney pointed out – would not have increased Crundwell’s prison sentence or restitution to the city.

Nor would it have satisfied people who feel that no punishment could make Crundwell suffer enough – though a little more public humiliation for Rita would soothe their lust for maximizing the limited penalty options.

But Sacco-Miller had little to gain from stringing out the proceedings any longer.

Still, we wish she had waited for a ruling on the defense argument about double jeopardy. That might have clarified her option to refile charges in the highly unlikely event that the federal sentence is greatly reduced on appeal.

But maybe we want too much.

WHILE WE’RE ON the subject of what we want, here is something else:

No more news conferences held out of doors in a brisk spring breeze, the kind that caused the state’s attorney to have to pull her hair out of her mouth a half a dozen times on Tuesday.

The whipping wind also played havoc with the sound quality of audio recorders and with the pages of reporters’ notebooks.

An unused courtroom, it seems, would be a civilized place for such an event.

But, yeah, you don’t always get what you want.

MOVING PAST THE Crundwell caper is more appealing to certain people.

“Let’s get this over with,” City Commissioner Jeff Kuhn said of the decision to dismiss state charges.

“It’s time to move on,” Commissioner Dennis Considine told reporter Derek Barichello.

“I would hope that the story ended,” Commissioner Colleen Brechon said, “but you never know.”

Those three were elected to the City Council just 2 years ago, so they were around for only the final year of the Crundwell era of creative bookkeeping.

But that doesn’t matter to many folks who have called for the resignations of Mayor Jim Burke and the entire council.

And some people won’t be convinced that Ms. Crundwell acted alone in her thievery.

The rest of us would like to see a little proof before making that leap.

IF THERE IS GOOD news ahead for the curious ones among us, it’s that we are likely to find out more about what happened – and why – in civil litigation than we’ve learned in criminal prosecution.

The city’s lawsuit already has produced some embarrassing information about the accountants who were ostensibly charged with auditing the city’s finances.

Sworn testimony and subpoenaed documents will tell us more about the auditors’ role, as well as that of the banks involved, and others who have had a hand or a finger in this mess.

That additional exposure will extend into the job that was done – or not done – by the City Council members themselves over the past two decades. Rest assured, the lawyers for the accountants and banks will shine a bright light on the steps and missteps of local government officials in their oversight of the city’s former finance director.

No one is coming out of this clean.

AMONG THE MANY villains of this story, of course, is the commission form of government itself.

The city is moving – a year after the financial bomb went off in city hall – to fix that.

A city administrator will be hired, they say. Maybe that will lead to a city manager.

Or this city might like to elect a full-time mayor to be held responsible when things go ka-blooey.

The commission form puts all five commissioners “in charge” of running the city, but requires no one with any experience or expertise in ... well, in anything to provide oversight of municipal operations.

Not that a full-time mayor who is chosen by popular vote would be any more capable.

But at least he would be someone who is directly responsible.

Citizens don’t want to hear that a government model – rather than elected officials – was the root cause of the Crundwell scandal.

They reason that the commissioners had a moral obligation to know what was going on, even if they had no real legal responsibility in that regard.

The argument is not without some merit.

NO, THIS STORY IS nowhere near the end.

As we noted the week that Crundwell was arrested in mid-April 2012, there is still a lot we don’t know.

That hasn’t changed. But, little by little, we will find out.

Maybe sooner rather than later.

But even if all the questions are answered, and the civil lawsuit is settled, and Rita lives a quiet existence under federal supervision ...

There still is that city election of 2015.

That should be an interesting chapter.

Lots to keep Crundwell story alive for years shaw-push-component-1