Happy with status quo at City Hall?
The message is simple these days from Dixon city officials: Everything's good now, so let's move on.
This follows last year's scandal, in which federal authorities found out former city Comptroller Rita Crundwell made off with $53 million over a couple of decades. In April, the city revealed that then-Public Works Director Shawn Ortgiesen racked up $13,521 in personal expenses on his city-issued credit card from April 2007 to March. By the time he was caught, he had paid back only $4,890.
Some critics blame these scandals on Dixon's commission form of government. They say part-time commissioners, who have executive authority over designated departments, aren't qualified to run the city on a day-to-day basis.
But Commissioner Dennis Considine said in a City Council meeting the other day that most people in Dixon seem to favor retaining the commission form of government.
He, like most of his colleagues, resisted the idea of hiring a city administrator who would have day-to-day control of government, with the council overseeing the administrator and setting policies.
Most cities have administrators these days, especially those the size of Dixon. But Considine doesn't want any one person to have too much power.
Commissioner Jeff Kuhn had similar fears. He questioned whether an administrator should have power over day-to-day operations, saying he already had daily conversations with supervisors of his designated departments about what is done and what needs to be done.
Commissioner Colleen Brechon wondered whether an administrator would get in the way of an already efficient system.
Mayor Jim Burke, however, favored a powerful administrator.
Police Chief Danny Langloss, who recently received the title of "special assistant to the council," is proposing hiring an administrator, but is apparently seeking to reduce the commission's authority over day-to-day matters.
Ideally, he said at the council meeting, commissioners would let department heads handle day-to-day operations with the oversight of an administrator.
Since May, a task force has been meeting to consider different forms of government. The panel is expected to make a recommendation on the form of government best for Dixon.
The recommendation will be nonbinding, but city officials have talked about putting it on the November 2014 ballot.
But they're none to excited about changing the form of government. And it's been that way for a while.
In October – 6 months after the Crundwell scandal came to light but before Ortgiesen's surfaced – council members seemed fine with the way things were.
"I certainly believe in the form of government we have," Considine said in an interview. "It works as well as any form of government. I'm positive about it."
Brechon also was happy.
"The city of Dixon has the best of all worlds," she said. "The council has very dedicated members. Shawn Ortgiesen is the city engineer, involved in all aspects of city business. He is very competent. I am very confident working with him and the city attorney."
Kuhn said he had no "preconceived notions," but added, "I have some trouble believing that if we had a city manager, none of this would have happened."
Kuhn, Brechon and Considine have been on the commission a couple of years.
Commissioner David Blackburn, who has served two decades, has become much more silent since the Crundwell scandal.
But he did speak up at the recent council meeting, saying he missed someone with Ortgiesen's experience.
No scientific polls have been taken about Dixon residents' view on their form of government. Is Considine's assessment correct – that most people are happy with the way things are?
David Giuliani is a reporter for Sauk Valley Media. He can be reached at dgiuliani@saukvalley or at 800-798-4085, ext. 525.