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City once had aldermanic government form

Councilmen elected by wards before commission adopted

DIXON – A little more than a century ago, city residents debated which form of government was best, just as a governmental task force has been charged to do now.

On Jan. 17, 1911, those residents elected to abolish the aldermanic form of government and adopt the commission form of government by a vote of 574-445, according to an Evening Telegraph article from that day.

Last week, the seven-member governmental task force appointed by Mayor Jim Burke asked what form of government existed before the commission form, and City Attorney Rob LeSage said he would need to research the answer.

The attorney explained that if the city were to abolish the commission form by referendum, it would give Dixon a mayor-council form, similar to Rock Falls.

In this form, the city clerk and treasurer are elected.

The number of council members, and whether they represent a ward or serve at large, would revert back to Dixon’s government before it adopted the commission form.

That form had 10 aldermen elected by wards, according to the newspaper article, meaning Dixon would revert back to that setup if the commission form is abolished without any other vote to adopt the city manager form.

Members of the task force said last week that that detail would be an important factor in their study of the mayor-council form. The commission form does not allow for commissioners to be elected by wards.

In 1911, arguments focused on whether regions of the city would lose their say. In fact, the 3rd Ward voted against adopting the commission form. It is unclear from the articles what region of the city that ward represented then.

Many of the same debates in those 1911 articles have been heard by the task force.

For example, M. Maloney of Dementtown said in “no uncertain tones ... I am opposed to commission form of government for the reason that I don’t believe in any concentration of power.”

Task force members have heard a number concerns in public comment about giving too much power to any one person.

Eli Rosenthal said in the 1911 article, “Let some of these other towns try it out first, Dixon has been an experimental station long enough.”

Edward Cahill, speaking in favor of the switch in 1911, said “Because the people are having their say more and more each day and should keep on having their say, [adopting commission form], in my opinion, will give them some more say.”

In line with that thinking, Dixon Commissioner Jeff Kuhn told the task force the commission form allows those who are elected, and directly represent residents, to have a greater impact on the city by overseeing its departments.

Henry S. Dixon argued in 1911 that the commission form resembled how businesses are managed.

Task force member Tom Shaw, CEO of Shaw Media, the parent company of Sauk Valley Media, has pointed out how the city manager form best resembles how businesses are managed today.

A number of city officials speaking to the task force have said the form is not as important as the people elected.

Similarly, the 1911 article said: “There is no universal remedy for the ills of a body politic, except one old fashioned cure. That old remedy always to be relied upon, is the election of honest, capable, and unselfish men to office.”

The panel plans to meet with an official from Rock Falls today to study the mayor-council form. The task force has examined both the city manager and commission form in depth thus far, meeting with officials from Ottawa and East Peoria, which have the commission form, as well as Sterling and Rochelle, which have the city manager form.

To attend

The governmental task force meets at 9 this morning at City Hall, 121 W. Second St.

Go to and click "Citizens Information Center," or call City Hall, 815-288-1485, for an agenda or more information.

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