Dateline Dixon: Where have we seen this before?

Dixon's settlement draws on fictional reference

Published: Wednesday, Oct. 2, 2013 1:15 a.m. CDT • Updated: Wednesday, Oct. 2, 2013 3:26 p.m. CDT
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Derek Barichello is a reporter for Sauk Valley Media. You can reach him at dbarichello@saukvalley.com or 815-625-3600, ext. 526.
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(Submitted)
Students in a grain bin rescue class hosted by the Dixon Fire Department work on rescue exercises Saturday in Dixon. The class, sponsored by the Illinois Fire Service Institute, could help firefighters save lives in the event of a real accident, said Dixon Fire Chief Tim Shipman.

DIXON – The city is in a unique situation.

Not long after news broke last week that the city of Dixon had accepted an out-of-court settlement for $40 million from its auditors and a bank for its responsibility in the Rita Crundwell theft, I started asking if any other cities in Illinois or in the United States have ever had anything similar happen.

By Dec. 1, the city is expected to receive the $40 million payment with $10.3 million going toward legal fees. A public meeting will be scheduled this month to present options and discuss strategies for using the money.

I asked Larry Frang, executive director at the Illinois Municipal League, personnel at the National League of Cities, and professors at Northern Illinois University, and they all said the same thing: “Never heard of anything quite like that.”

A Google search showed nothing similar, either.

I wanted to give context, find out what other cities have done in a comparable situation, and present it.

What I seemingly found: Dixon is in a one-of-a-kind situation and will get to set the example for any other city that finds itself in this situation.

Also, let’s pause for a moment. This money isn’t a bonus. Crundwell’s theft of nearly $54 million left its fair share of debt and neglected city projects.

As of April, the city had $12,656,314 in outstanding debt for five outstanding bonds, including one to construct the Public Health and Safety Building. Additionally, the city’s sewer fund carries $9,720,770 in debt, including a bond for construction at the wastewater treatment plant.

With that waiver, I’ll press forward by saying the closest comparison I could find is a fictional one, but as a fan of old “The Simpsons” episodes, I was reminded of it immediately.

The town of Springfield, home to “The Simpsons,” received $3 million when Mr. Burns, the owner of the nuclear power plant, was fined for dumping nuclear waste.

In that episode, the town calls for a meeting to decide how to spend the money.

A townsperson suggests the city hire more firemen. Apu, operator of the Kwik-E-Mart convenience store, asks for more policemen. And Marge Simpson calls to spend more money on the city’s “absurdly dilapidated Main Street.”

Mr. Burns even tries to foil the town into giving the money back to his power plant by dressing up in disguise, but he’s soon discovered.

Funny enough, one of those suggestions, fixing the streets, has been made on Sauk Valley Media’s Facebook page from commenters in Dixon’s example.

Going back to that episode, Springfield gets behind Marge’s Main Street suggestion, when all of a sudden, a fast-talking charmer named Lyle Lanley, in the mold of “Professor” Harold Hill from “The Music Man,” leads people in a song and swindles the town into building an unneeded monorail.

No need to explain how this ends; the monorail soon malfunctions.

Don’t get me wrong, “The Simpsons” is just a television show meant for entertainment.

Still, there is some political satire there worth noting.

For instance, it will not be constructive if residents attending the upcoming city meeting get caught up in the money, or any one idea of what the money can do.

The mayor, some commissioners and the finance director have already said they want to take their time to make decisions and be responsible with the money.

Let’s be sure to be watchdogs and make certain they do so.

Other news around town

A caller asked us about a Dixon Fire Department red pickup truck pulling a large, red crane wagon at the intersection of Seventh Street and Galena Avenue on Saturday.

Dixon Fire hosted the Illinois Fire Service Institute for a class on grain bin rescue this past weekend with a number of departments participating.

Having a grain facility in Dixon, Fire Chief Tim Shipman said the training is essential.

The scope of this course is to educate about grain storage facility types, their construction, and operating features. OSHA regulations, physical-environmental hazards, and potential rescue resources are identified to ensure the response falls within the requirements, minimizing fire department civil or criminal liability, Shipman said.

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