Coming up with new narrative

Dixon's city leaders have a theme these days: Let's move on.

That's what some of them said after prosecutors dropped the state charges against Rita Crundwell this week.

But let's face it: This scandal will stick with the community for years. No one is going to forget that a top city official made off with nearly $54 million.

So how does the city shake this?

Here's an idea: Come up with a new narrative.

That narrative could be openness, putting as much information online as possible. When people bring up the Crundwell scandal, Dixon's leaders could acknowledge it and then boast: "We've become the most open city in Illinois."

Last year, the city made some steps in that direction. After the scandal broke last April, the Illinois Policy Institute looked at the city's website and used its "Ten-Point Transparency Checklist."

The city did poorly – getting only 16.7 out of 100 points. Three months later, the score rose to 65.8.

The city put more of its financial information online, but it's slipped in recent months.

August saw the last monthly treasurer's report on the website. And no monthly statement of expenditures – the city's checkbook – has appeared since January.

Even though the Illinois Policy Institute recommended the city put its credit card receipts online, that still hasn't been done. (That is especially relevant, given former Public Works Director Shawn Ortgiesen's use of his credit card for personal expenses.)

Despite the institute's recommendation, the site still does not contain employees' salaries and overtime.

As for contact information for elected officials, Commissioner Dennis Considine, to his credit, has his personal phone number on the site. But the mayor and the other three commissioners do not. They list only the main City Hall number.

That's in contrast to other government entities that include personal contact information, including Sterling, Rock Falls, Morrison, Lee County and Whiteside County.

To be fair, though, the city of Dixon includes its entire agenda packets online, while Rock Falls and Sterling do not.

As is required by state law, the city posts information online about its procedures for using the state Freedom of Information Act.

The site informs people to turn in its written form (available on the website) either by email, snail mail or hand delivery. People are left with the impression they have to use the form.

But they don't; state law says a public entity can't require a standard form for requests, which serves as another barrier to get public information.

In Illinois, you can write your request on a cocktail napkin (though I wouldn't recommend it).

I realize that pointing out this small problem in Dixon's procedures may seem picky. But after the Crundwell scandal, Dixon cannot afford even small errors when it comes to openness.

David Giuliani is a reporter for Sauk Valley Media. He can be reached at dgiuliani@saukvalley or at 800-798-4085, ext. 525. 

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