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Dateline Dixon: Attend meeting, and call me in the morning

Published: Wednesday, July 24, 2013 1:15 a.m. CDT

DIXON – Governmental task force members reached an epiphany last week.

The city government they were tasked to evaluate soon will change.

Or, as panel member Jack Schrauth put it, “This isn’t the status quo anymore.”

Not entirely.

When Mayor Jim Burke called for the formation of the task force, the city did not have plans to hire a professional city administrator.

The City Council decided to do so after it was revealed former City Engineer Shawn Ortgiesen, who played the role of a facilitator, used his city-issued credit card for personal items.

Monday, the council finalized a job description for an administrator; they have set a salary range from $95,000 to $110,000.

The position will bring a whole new level of professionalism Dixon has not seen, granting an expert in public administration oversight of day-to-day operations.

Add the fact that a certified public accountant, Paula Meyer, was hired as the finance director, and this is not the same setup in which Rita Crundwell’s lack of oversight allowed her to steal nearly $54 million.

The subsequent call for more a professional government in Dixon became synonymous with the call for a city manager form of government. The seven-member task force was supposed to set the direction. It was supposed to be commission form of government versus the city manager form.

And it still is, sort of.

It’s just not as black and white.

After talking with six cities and studying three forms of government, task force members had another epiphany: The form may not matter as much as the vision behind it – which explains why Sterling and Rochelle, or Ottawa and East Peoria, are so different, despite sharing the same forms of government.

Task force member Bill Wadsworth, who was in favor of the city manager form of government from the outset, even has asked “What’s the difference?” between the commission form with an administrator and the city manager form.

There is a difference.

The commission form leaves the interpretation of the administrator’s job in the hands of elected officials, while a city manager’s duties are set by state law.

And that’s only the abridged version.

I may have confused readers, but maybe that’s my trick.

The task force, which has studied each form of government in depth, has reached a point where it can see two potentially successful, yet imperfect paths. Each form has its pros and cons.

Although the task force may be open to both forms at this point, the bigger question is, “What’s best for the city of Dixon moving forward?”

That’s a question task force members want citizens to help them answer.

That’s why Monday evening’s meeting at City Hall is important. There these two forms, and their pros and cons, will be presented, and the public will be able to ask questions of task force members.

Residents ultimately will make their decision known in the voting booth, if and when the issue goes to referendum, and a well-informed public will give the best answer.

Who knows? That answer may surprise you.

To attend

The governmental task force meets at 6:30 p.m. Monday at City Hall, 121 W. Second St., on the second floor in the Council Chambers for a question-and-answer session.

For an agenda for this meeting, minutes from past meetings or more information, go to www.discoverdixon.org or call 815-288-1485.

Stop by

Derek Barichello's “office hours” will be from 1 to 2 p.m. today at Books on First, 202 W. First St. Feel free to stop by and ask questions, suggest story ideas, or just chat.

He also can be reached at dbarichello@saukvalley.com or 800-798-4085, ext. 526.

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