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Column: Former commissioner gave us inside look

Published: Saturday, Aug. 31, 2013 1:15 a.m. CST
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David Giuliani

Recently, former Dixon City Council member Ralph Contreras agreed to an interview about his years at City Hall.

It was his first since the Rita Crundwell scandal broke in April 2012.

Contreras served from 1991 to 2011, a time when Crundwell made off with nearly $54 million from city coffers. So Contreras, I figured, would be a good source to help readers understand how the city operated in those years.

At a council meeting 2 weeks ago, some residents questioned members about my stories on the Contreras interview and the council’s longtime practice of meeting in private every 4 years to divvy out their administrative posts.

As for Contreras, Police Chief Danny Langloss said, “He doesn’t speak for the city in any regard.”

Langloss has been named special assistant to the City Council pending the hiring of a city administrator.

In an interview, Langloss told me he made that statement because the residents were directing their frustration at the City Council for comments Contreras had made.

“The City Council didn’t say it. Why were they directing their frustration at the council?” Langloss said. “The council isn’t upset at all with what Ralph said.”

In our story, Contreras, 88, said that he and the other council members “let the people down” by not catching Crundwell’s theft.

He also said an unwritten rule had barred council members from interfering with their colleagues’ areas of administrative responsibility. For instance, Contreras wondered why Crundwell, the longtime comptroller, took off so much time, but he refrained from pursuing the issue because that was the domain of Roy Bridgeman, the commissioner of finance.

Contreras, the commissioner of streets, said he “stuck” to his area.

For much of this year, a mayor-appointed task force looked at various forms of government because of calls for changes.

The task force has recommended the city switch from a commission form of government to a manager form, not an idea the council is enthusiastically embracing.

In looking at various forms of government, shouldn’t we hear from people who worked within the existing structure? People without the pressure of re-election. People like Contreras.

We’d like to speak with Bridgeman, who left the council in 2011, but he won’t take our calls in this post-Crundwell era. Another council member, David Blackburn, who started in 1991, also has taken to the bunker.

So that leaves Contreras.

These days, City Hall’s theme is simple: Let’s move on.

But why not figure out what went wrong? Sometimes moving on means looking back.

David Giuliani is a reporter for Sauk Valley Media. He can be reached at dgiuliani@saukvalley or at 800-798-4085, ext. 525.

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