DIXON – John Varga Sr. gave fellow Riverfront commission members a surprise when he said he'd had enough.
At the tail end of Tuesday's meeting, Varga spoke out against what he believes is a lack of leadership on the Riverfront, then he left abruptly before the meeting was adjourned.
Varga said he received "a real education" when he tried to sell tickets to the Midsummer's Drawdown, a cooperative fundraiser between the Riverfront and Dixon Main Street that was held July 20 at Heritage Crossing.
He said people in the community did not want to support the Riverfront, because of Chairman Larry Reed, commission member Paul Miller and his wife and Executive Director Kay Miller.
"It's a big joke," Varga said at the meeting. "I've had it."
Afterward, he told Sauk Valley Media in a phone interview: "You just can't get anything accomplished. I've been there for 2 years. It's an ongoing saga. Table this and table that. It's ugly, I've just had a belly full of it."
The Midsummer's Drawdown raised about $500 for the Riverfront, according to a report given Tuesday.
Reed said during the meeting he is unaware of any ill feelings toward him in Dixon and felt blindsided by the resignation.
"I try my best, for 15 or 16 years I've been with this commission," Reed said. "If the community feels that way, the mayor needs to make some changes. ... I've always said if anyone else wants to take over, they can, but nobody steps up."
Paul Miller said Varga's claims were "rubbish." Commission member Wendell Snell said he has not heard anything negative about Reed or the Millers.
Dixon resident Stan Wolzen, who served on the Riverfront Committee for 3 years and attends meetings regularly, told the commission that many people in the community will not contribute to the Riverfront until "openness and honesty return to it."
Wolzen made reference to the estimated $2.62 million of city funds that went into the Heritage Crossing project from a 2008 bond and motor fuel tax to finish construction.
Reed and former Finance Commissioner Roy Bridgeman told SVM in February 2009 that tax dollars would not go toward the project and the Riverfront Commission would repay the loan.
No city record acknowledges the deal and no official action by the Riverfront Commission or City Council approved such an agreement. Mayor Jim Burke has said the city "should move on" in regard to the debt.
"I don't know how you're going to find help funding those boat docks," said Wolzen, referring to the commission's ongoing efforts to build docks at Heritage Crossing. "You hid the problem, for so many years, by saying there was no debt. There's a bad one. Unless you are going to pay for [projects] upfront, it won't fly."
Citizens should not push the panic button in regard to the Riverfront debt: It's a 20-year loan and the commission still intends to repay it, Reed said.
"It costs you money to get money," he said. "There's no way we're going to be able to raise funds just to pay a debt. We need to have another capital project and raise funds over that cost to pay it back."
Also Tuesday, Reed reported the Riverfront is applying for a grant that would pay 90 percent for a dock with room for 13 boats extending west of the stone stairs at the center of Heritage Crossing. The cost is estimated at $153,000.
The commission would need to raise 10 percent of that; it has raised $4,665.
Purchase of a 40-by-26-inch bronze plaque with the names of Heritage Crossing's initial donors was discussed. It is estimated to cost $2,989 and its placement was undecided.
The commission also voted to add a $200 cleanup deposit for all private party rentals, which will be returned to the renter upon final inspection.
Some renters have left Heritage Crossing a mess, leaving cleanup to Riverfront maintenance and city staff, Reed said.
A committee looking into a consolidation of services of the Riverfront Commission, Dixon Tourism and Main Street is compiling a report with recommendations to present to the City Council as early as Sept. 3.
The Riverfront Commission's next meeting is at 6:30 p.m. Sept. 10 at City Hall, 121 W. Second St., on the second floor of the council chambers.
For an agenda for this meeting, minutes from past meetings or more information, go to www.discoverdixon.org or call 815-288-1485.