City officials get good reception at forum
More than 200 show up for forum
DIXON – No boos. No brawls. No barbs – at least out loud.
Dixon officials took suggestions from the public on how to spend $40 million the city will receive – after legal fees are paid – from an out-of-court settlement and sales of Rita Crundwell’s assets.
Thursday was the first time the city held a town hall related to Crundwell, the former comptroller who stole nearly $54 million from city coffers over more than two decades. All in all, city officials got a good reception.
More than 200 people showed up in the auditorium at Loveland Community House, sitting on metal folding chairs. Eight TV cameramen were on hand. Two police officers stood guard.
The city reserved two front rows for its employees – and attorney Devon Bruce, whose Chicago law firm is getting $10 million from the settlement.
Bruce stayed quiet.
On Tuesday, Mayor Jim Burke promised to take questions about the Crundwell scandal at the forum. A day later, he reversed himself. At the town hall, he said he would speak about the whole matter after the settlement documents are signed and delivered.
The town hall lasted a little more than an hour and a half, ending just in time for the Chicago Bears’ kickoff.
During a 40-minute presentation, officials focused on the city’s progress since federal authorities arrested Crundwell on April 17, 2012.
Dixon Finance Director Paula Meyer (the city ditched the comptroller title post-Crundwell) told the crowd that the city operated with fewer employees than Sterling, a similarly sized city.
“The city operates rather efficiently,” Meyer said.
“Except when you get ripped off,” a man told a friend in the audience.
Getting feedback, city employees walked microphones to speakers.
Those wearing “Save the Pool” T-shirts pushed for spending money on renovating the old Memorial Pool, which has been closed for more than a decade. And a Rockford businessman asked the city to invest money in a project to improve access to the Rock River.
Those who got the loudest applause called for cutting water and sewer rates.
The city’s former finance commissioner, Walter Lohse, who served from 1967 to 1987, advised the city to resist spending the settlement money on large capital projects.
“Those projects should stand on their own merits through referendum,” he said.
He noted his previous position with the city, adding that he left before the “pilfering” began. In the early 1980s, though, he recommended Crund-well, a city employee, for comptroller.
Two audience members praised Meyer. Both Meyer and Burke got applause.
One resident referred to the settlement as a “windfall,” but another, Geoff Vanderlin, objected to that wording.
“This is getting back the money we should have been spending all along,” he said.
By about 7:30 p.m., the meeting had run out of speakers.
“I’m told it’s 3 minutes to kickoff,” Police Chief Danny Langloss told the crowd.
The meeting then ended. The mayor walked out of the wooden-floored auditorium with Bruce.
Afterward, resident William Doan said he disagreed with any immediate lowering of taxes, as some suggested.
“We should see how it all works out,” he said. “We don’t want to get ourselves in a pickle.”