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More checks on city cards in Dixon

City says new policy will fix its old ways

Published: Saturday, June 8, 2013 1:15 a.m. CST

DIXON – No misuse of city-issued credit cards by current staff was found dating back to Jan. 1, 2011.

However, some credit card activities of former Dixon Comptroller Rita Crundwell fell into a gray area of appropriateness.

Sauk Valley Media examined credit card requisitions, statements and receipts dating from Jan. 1, 2011, to March of this year. The documents were obtained through a Freedom of Information Act request in the wake of former City Engineer Shawn Ortgiesen’s racking up more than $13,000 in personal expenses on city-issued credit cards.

A credit card policy adopted at this week’s City Council meeting should make clear what’s appropriate and what’s not, said Mayor Jim Burke and Police Chief Danny Langloss, special assistant to the City Council.

Before Monday, the city had no adopted credit card policy.

City employees, as a common practice, filed requisitions, which stated what charges took place in a given month.

Before Ortgiesen resigned in April for his personal use of a city credit card, city commissioners signed credit card requisitions for approval about 70 percent of the time.

Under the city’s new credit card policy, those signatures are required before a bill can be paid.

Of the 262 requisitions reviewed from 13 different accounts across city departments dating back to January 2011, the city charged $212,114.53 in credit card expenses. Of those, 81 requisitions were not signed by a commissioner.

Also, the city was charged a late fee eight times for not paying the water department’s credit card bills on time.

Of the 31 requisitions from Ortgiesen that SVM received dating back to 2005, he wrote “to be reimbursed” next to several items on 27 of them, noting the expenses were for personal purchases.

A notation for reimbursement appeared three times.

Each was on a requisition filed by Crundwell, the ex-comptroller who is in a federal prison for stealing nearly $54 million from the city.

On a May 2011 requisition, Crundwell marked “t/b reimbursed” for a $599 Apple computer, which receipts show was reimbursed by Jill Bridgeman, wife of former Finance Commissioner Roy Bridgeman.

On two requisitions Crundwell noted “Coffee/To be reimb.,” first in December 2010 and again in April 2011. The attached statements show Green Mountain coffee was charged for $51.96. There is no receipt to show whether the money was paid back and no note to show who should have reimbursed the purchase.

(None of the three requisitions was signed.)

City officials are uncertain about those purchases, although coffee orders are found on several other requisitions.

The new policy makes clear that municipal credit cards cannot be used for anything other than city business, Langloss said.

Only eight of 31 Ortgiesen requisitions were signed by a city commissioner, going back to 2005.

In the policy approved Monday, no monthly statement will be paid until an employee has received approval from his supervising commissioner and all supporting documents, such as receipts, are provided.

“Unfortunately, Crundwell’s negative impact on the city went beyond her theft,” Langloss said. “The city has worked together and cleaned up a lot of her poor practices, and that’s part of my job, ... to make sure we have all the policies we need in place, before we hire in a new administrator.”

In April 2011, no requisitions were signed for approval. In contrast, from August to November, 2011, all submitted requisitions were signed, including Ortgiesen’s.

Commissioners did not routinely sign the requisitions of the departments they oversaw.

Department directors turned in requisitions to the accounting department, which in turn sought out commissioners for approval.

Often, that meant a bundle of requisitions stapled together were left in a commissioner’s mailbox with a copy of the check the city was cutting, said Stephanie Terranova, deputy city clerk.

Ideally, the requisitions went to the appropriate commissioner.

But because of the time crunch of getting approval to pay the credit card bill punctually, that was not always the case.

That practice meant Commissioner of Public Health & Safety Dennis Considine signed 71 requisitions, across a handful of departments, including four requisitions from the library, four from sewage, and three from Ortgiesen.

Considine oversees police, fire and building departments – and the majority of his approvals come from there.

In comparison, Finance Commissioner David Blackburn signed 42 requisitions, Mayor Jim Burke signed 14, and Commissioner of Public Property Colleen Brechon signed six. Commissioner of Streets Jeff Kuhn signed no requisitions.

“[Requisitions] were supposed to go to the commissioners they were responsible for,” Considine said. “... Whenever I got [a requisition from a different department], I tried to be accommodating. I’d go through them and sign them.”

Considine added that commissioners are more careful these days: “You won’t find that now.”

Finance Director Paula Meyer said the city has had to rework how it distributes requisitions for approval.

While commissioner approval is an important procedure and will continue, Meyer said, the most important review comes from the accounting department and her, who are trained to detect irregularities or fraud.

“I’ve empowered our staff that if they have any questions or if they see anything funny, to bring it directly to my attention,” Meyer said. “In the past [under Crundwell], this wasn’t the case.”

Since she implemented new financial software in January, credit card requisitions signed by Meyer, related receipts, and statements are submitted to the accounts payable clerk. That clerk enters the data into the computer.

After the data is entered, the deputy city clerk cuts the checks to pay the bill. All bills are reviewed and approved at the next City Council meeting.

Meyer added that the software prevents the accounts payable clerk from cutting a check, just as the deputy city clerk is prevented from putting data into the computer.

Also, she noted credit cards are only a fraction of the requisitions that need approval. The city pays most of its bills through checks.

A review of credit cards issued to Crundwell, Ortgiesen and the library showed the lowest rate of commissioner signatures. Crundwell paid the credit card bills, many times without a signature on her own requisition. Now an administrator must sign off on the requisition filed by the finance director.

Langloss said Ortgiesen and the library did not have a commissioner directly over them, however, Ortgiesen’s job description said he reported to the mayor. Burke said that was not practiced in regard to credit cards.

Credit cards issued to the water department showed the best rate of approval. They were signed by a commissioner – with the exception of two times dating back to January 2011 – mostly Finance Commissioner Blackburn.

The city was penalized $242 in late payments for cards issued to Willard “Rusty” Cox, Matt Heckman and Dawn Griswold of the water department.

The water department received two late payments each in September 2011, October 2011, August 2012 and February 2013 – for a total of eight occurrences. The late fee was $29, except once it was $39.

Cox said the water department receives its bill and reports it later than other departments – usually in the middle of the month.

Since it can take up to 3 days to process requisitions at City Hall, some of those bills were not approved at the City Council meeting when it voted to pay its bills.

As a result, the credit card bills were not able to be voted on by commissioners until the next month, causing a late fee.

“After that happened a few times,” Cox said, “I talked to commissioners and got permission to pay them without council approval.”

The new policy says the finance director is in charge of paying the credit card bills within 30 days of the initial statement date.

“We were, and still are, struggling with the short turnaround on credit card bills,” Meyer said. “We send out bills after each meeting after the council approves. If the bill comes in after our processing date, three business days before the meeting, it’s held until the next meeting. This makes it late. We have started to send them out before the meeting, even though they have not been through the vote.”

The city issued credit cards to Crundwell/Meyer, Ortgiesen, Langloss, Fire Chief Tim Shipman, Police Lt. Clay Whelan, Police Brad Sibley, Librarian Lynn Roe, Water Superintendent Cox, Water foremen Gerry Carlson and Heckman, Wastewater Superintendent Dan Mahan, Public Property Superintendent Curt Phillips, Building Official Paul Shiaras, and two others to the police.

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