Panel shares pros/cons of each form

Public debated items on the list Monday

DIXON – There's no perfect form of city government.

Governmental task force members made that point to about 50 people at Monday's meeting asking for the public's input.

The seven-member panel, appointed by Mayor Jim Burke to recommend the best form of government for the city of Dixon, has listed what they believe are the pros and cons for the two forms they think will work best: a city manager and Dixon's current direction of a commission form with a city administrator.

Starting with the commission form, the task force listed five potential advantages:

– The duties of the administrator are flexible, because they are determined by the City Council, meaning elected officials can adjust the power of the administrator without needing a referendum.

– The hiring and firing of department heads occurs by the majority vote of the City Council.

– It allows more citizen input, because most ordinances must be placed on file for 7 days before they can be passed.

– It can be fast acting and quick to make decisions about economic development, because commissioners are more involved in operations. This was shared by East Peoria, which has a commission form of government with an administrator.

– A small number of elected officials sit on the City Council.

In contrast, the task force said a commission form leaves the potential for two bosses, requires every member of the City Council to be elected in the same election, requires no qualifications for those who have executive authority over city departments and cannot have geographic representation via wards.

David Wyman, of Dixon, said Monday that commissioners do not have the expertise to be running city departments and should be focused on setting policy for the city.

"Dixon needs to move into the 20th century," Wyman said. "We need a qualified professional administrator that's up on all the rules of city government, including human resources, which is a very important, specialized area."

Former Mayor Jim Dixon said a professional administrator needs the authority to do his or her job, which he said will not happen under a commission form of government.

"The commission form has five bosses," Jim Dixon said. "It's a form with five mayors."

For the city manager form, the task force listed 10 possible advantages:

– The duties of the city manager are certain, because they are determined by state law.

– The form separates policy and executive authority between the City Council and manager.

– There's a clear chain of command. Department heads report to the city manager.

– It can reduce the day-to-day politics in city operations.

– It gives the possibility geographic representation via wards. This is decided by the City Council.

– Only a portion of the City Council is elected at once.

– It encourages more candidates for City Council, because they are not responsible for city departments.

– John Phillips, of the Illinois City/County Management Association, told the task force more qualified candidates will apply for a city manager position as opposed to an administrator position, because the manager title has more prestige.

– If a referendum is passed by the citizens of Dixon, it shows there is a clear majority supporting this form of government.

– It takes a referendum to abolish the form.

Kathy Lane disagreed that day-to-day politics in city operations occurs under Dixon's commission form, and asked why department heads were not interviewed by the panel.

"Just because it doesn't occur now, doesn't mean it cannot occur in the future," said task force member Tom Shaw, CEO of Shaw Media, parent company of Sauk Valley Media.

Dixon said fiefdoms are more of a problem with commissioners running city departments, than politics.

Also, David Keats said he opposed ward elections, because he did not want to see Dixon employ Chicago-style politics characterized by ward bosses and political favors.

To that, Dixon said he did not see it happening in the city of 16,000 people.

In contrast, the task force said the form potentially gives too much power to one person to hire and fire city department heads, creates the potential for the City Council to be less engaged and could reduce the power of or responsiveness to the citizens.

Resident Josie Almassy questioned why the task force believed the City Council would be less engaged. She previously lived in a city manager community where the council was elected by wards and she said those elected were responsive to the people in their wards.

"One of the cities we spoke with reported that there were members of the City Council that did not have any real dialogue with the city manager or the city departments, just showed up and voted," said the Rev. Michael Cole, task force member. "We've seen the other side, too, meaning it comes down to the people you elect and hire."

Task force Chairwoman Marilyn Coffey reminded those in attendance the list of pros and cons were made based on the potential of certain scenarios.

"We've talked to cities with the same forms of government who do things different from each other," Coffey said.

The task force said it hopes to make a recommendation to the City Council by the end of August. It is nonbinding.

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