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Resident suggests ‘transparency advocate’

Position would be redundant, pricey, commissioner says

Published: Wednesday, May 8, 2013 1:15 a.m. CDT

DIXON – In the wake of the latest mishap at City Hall, Carol Fisher is asking the City Council to replace $80,000 tentatively budgeted for a deputy fire chief with a $40,000 “transparency advocate”.

“This person would be responsible for placing on the city website ‘the books’ of the city as requested in a previous Sauk Valley news editorial and could also place on the website the council packets for citizens to review prior to meetings,” the Dixon resident wrote to the council.

City officials are in the process of formulating the city’s budget and still must cut a little more than $10,000 to balance it.

Commissioners have not had any talks about adding any personnel for transparency or for a forensic audit, as others have suggested, Mayor Jim Burke said.

“I don’t agree with the concept or the money proposed to do it,” Burke said. “We have five elected citizen advocates for the city.”

The request comes a couple of months after it was revealed through an internal audit that former City Engineer Shawn Ortgiesen used city-issued credit cards for personal use, and more than a year after former comptroller Rita Crundwell was arrested for stealing nearly $54 million in city funds.

Commissioner Jeff Kuhn said he is against the proposal, because it would be redundant and costly.

Kuhn said he gives his commissioner’s packet, which includes the city’s monthly expenses, to Linda Claussen at the police department to post on the city’s website at www.discoverdixon.org the day after City Council meetings.

The information is posted under the citizens information tab.

Fisher, who regularly attends council meetings, said posting more information, such as invoices and receipts, would allow for more eyes to examine expenses and find errors or make suggestions on savings, as well as deter any city employees from misusing city funds.

It also would take pressure off commissioners and possibly restore citizens’ trust, she said.

The Illinois Policy Institute said the city’s latest incident, involving personal use of a city credit card, could have been prevented if credit card expenditures were posted online.

The institute has warned Dixon officials that they are not in compliance with its “10-Point Transparency” checklist, which it recommends all public agencies follow.

Specifically, item 6 says a city’s website should provide a checkbook register and credit card expenditures for up to 5 years for all who have such cards. Dixon did not do so.

Kuhn said the council intends to comply with each of the institute’s guidelines, or as much of them as it can, but posting such information takes several hours.

Finance Director Paula Meyer has been involved with higher priorities, such as implementing new software at City Hall, conducting an internal audit of city expenses and working on the city’s budget, he said.

“We want to get to full compliance or as close as we can, but it takes time,” Kuhn said.

Only four government entities – Kane County, Orland Park, Hanover Township and Lombard – are in full compliance with its checklist, the institute has said.

The checklist is not the only effort to make government more transparent.

House Bill 3312, co-sponsored by Rep. Tom Demmer, R-Dixon, would require all units of local government with a budget of more than $1 million to maintain a website with financial reports and audits, among other things, including salaries, budgets and contracts.

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