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Dateline Dixon: Mattoon's example stood as lesson for task force

DIXON – What started as a complicated process will be settled with a clear-cut decision in November 2014, assuming the City Council keeps its word and no other petitions make their way to the ballot.

That's the way the governmental task force wanted it.

Earlier this month, the Dixon City Council said it was in favor of putting a single question on the ballot asking citizens if they want to adopt the city manager form of government.

As many may know by now, Dixon has a commission form of government, which gives its elected officials both legislative and executive authority, while the city manager form grants legislative only to elected officials and executive to the city manager, among other nuances.

The task force was appointed by the mayor and approved by the City Council to recommend what government is best for Dixon.

The task force suggested the City Council put a single question on the ballot, because as task force member Jack Schrauth suggested, "in other communities, more than one question led to chaos."

In other words, the task force didn't want a scenario similar to one in Mattoon, where two questions were asked on the ballot: one to adopt the city manager form and another to retain the commission form.

In the 2000 election there, voters approved the city manager form of government, and also voted to retain the commission form.

That can't happen.

Because voters in Mattoon essentially voted in favor of two forms of government, the current commission form remained in place.

Nothing was accomplished and the city debated the meaning of the results, said interim administrator Kyle Gill, who had worked as a community planner during the election.

"If I could've done it all over again, I would," Gill said.

The Mattoon council thought putting two questions on the ballot was the only way the referendum could be done, so the council passed both resolutions, confusing voters.

"I think people saw the questions as: 'Do you want to keep commissioner?' 'Yes.' 'Do you want a city manager?' 'Yes.' They didn't realize it was a yes-no proposition. You can't have both."

Eight years later, another vote was taken in Mattoon, and this time the people voted in favor of keeping the commission form.

Still, there's debate about whether a clear answer was given.

Gill said it's important to have one question, and to educate voters about the issue to avoid any controversy.

"People need to know what they are voting for," he said.

Gill was uncertain whether Mattoon would take another vote, but the issue has not died there.

Despite the Dixon City Council's action, another question could be added to the ballot, if voters so please.

To put on the ballot a question of abolishing the current commission form of government, 25 percent of the number of voters in the previous mayoral election, or 630 signatures – would be needed.

The governmental task force has done all it can in its study, with help from the city's attorney, to avoid anything complicated.

"We want to let citizens decide," said Marilyn Coffey, task force chairwoman. "We feel there is no greater decision a community can make than to adopt its form of government."

With this setup, the city should have a clear voice.

Stop by

Derek Barichello will conduct “office hours” 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 or 800-798-4085, ext. 526.

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