We sympathize with the difficult situation that Dixon Mayor Jim Burke has endured for more than 18 months since the arrest of then-Comptroller Rita Crundwell for a massive theft – more than $53 million – from city accounts.
The pressure on Burke goes back even further. After the mayor was alerted to the existence of Crundwell’s secret bank account in the fall of 2011, he informed the FBI and then had to keep it to himself, month after month, until FBI agents arrested Crundwell at city hall on April 17, 2012.
Since then, it’s our impression that the mayor has been open, generally, to discussing the case – as open as he could be, given the criminal investigation and the city’s ongoing lawsuit against its auditors and a bank that held the secret Crundwell account.
This year has seen two significant developments.
Crundwell was sentenced in February to nearly 20 years in prison after pleading guilty.
The city’s lawsuit was settled this fall to the tune of nearly $40 million to be paid by the defendants to the city.
Before the city convened a public meeting to take comments about what to do with the money, Burke’s initial inclination seemed to be to take questions about other aspects of the Crundwell case. He announced publicly that he would do so.
But then, for reasons that remain unknown to us, Burke changed his mind.
Furthermore, the mayor announced Monday that he did not want to answer any more questions about Crundwell and the scandal that has rocked Dixon and blackened its reputation at home and around the world.
We are puzzled by the mayor’s decision.
Yes, Burke must be exceedingly tired of the whole mess. From the start, the mayor found himself taking heat for the failings of a department – Accounts and Finances – for which, in the city’s commission form of government, he was not directly responsible.
Burke soldiered on through the hiring of a new finance director and a separate scandal earlier this year regarding the use of a city credit card for personal expenses by then-City Engineer Shawn Ortgiesen.
With the recovery of millions of dollars, Burke apparently wants to finally put this scandal in his rearview mirror.
We urge Burke to rethink his decision.
We believe far too many questions remain unanswered for the mayor to quit talking now.
For one thing, with Crundwell’s negotiated guilty plea, the public was denied a federal trial during which many more facts about the theft, uncovered by the FBI during its 2011-12 investigation, would have surfaced.
Who were all the players in the incestuous financial dealings and cozy relationships that filled the city hall culture created by Crundwell?
How many people were obligated to Crundwell because they sought and accepted loans from her, or worked for her business, or socialized with her?
How on earth did she keep her thefts a secret for so long?
Burke’s decision doesn’t instill public confidence, as a strong streak of skepticism still exists among the people. If the mayor is trying to spare others from embarrassment, he is making a mistake.
It’s safe to say that no other people will be charged in the case, or the FBI would have done so by now. By ending his comments on Crundwell, Burke leaves himself subject to speculation, rumor and conjecture that probably is worse than the truth.
We remind the mayor that transparency leads to trust. Crundwell’s conviction can’t buy that trust. Neither can $40 million.
But continued openness can.
Dixon residents need to learn everything they can from this sad, difficult, and expensive lesson, so they can be on guard in the future.
That is the purpose served by continued public questions and mayoral answers.