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Township supervisor: ‘I’m not good at math’

Supervisor breaks down, takes blame

Published: Thursday, Nov. 7, 2013 1:15 a.m. CDT • Updated: Thursday, Nov. 7, 2013 9:18 a.m. CDT

ROCK FALLS – The embattled head of Coloma Township broke down in tears during an interview Wednesday and took the blame for the township’s financial reporting problems.

“It’s all on me,” Supervisor Debra Burke said in an interview at her township office.

This admission followed two Sauk Valley Media stories that reported the township’s failure to file reports with the state and in the newspaper. When the township finally got around to publishing reports, they included many wrong figures.

On Tuesday, Burke, who has been supervisor since 1981, sent an email to township trustees blaming cemetery manager Mary Bowman for sending information to the newspaper about problems in the financial reports.

In an interview Wednesday morning, Burke said she felt “betrayed” by Bowman and agreed everything in the township is public information.

Last week, she told Sauk Valley Media that she had hoped to get financial reports to the state comptroller by Oct. 31. Asked about that Wednesday, Burke started shaking and then broke down into tears while sitting at a table in the township meeting room. Two employees worked nearby.

Burke said the recent news coverage had humiliated her, so she went away for a few days, which is why she didn’t submit the reports last week. 

“I’m trying to be accurate,” said Burke, who also is Coloma’s treasurer. “I’m not good at math.”

Statewide, Burke has been recognized for her expertise in providing general assistance to the poor, which is one of the major functions of townships. She has taught classes on the subject.

Burke upset with cemetery manager

Last month, Sauk Valley Media reported that Coloma was the only government entity in Whiteside County that hadn’t turned in its financial report to the state comptroller. Of the 21 other townships, all but one are smaller.

In 2012, Whiteside County withheld more than $400,000 in property tax revenue from Coloma because the township hadn’t published its financial statements in the newspaper.

In a recent interview, Burke said the problems happened, in part, because she had been dealing with health problems, including three major surgeries.

On Tuesday, though, the supervisor sent an email to the township’s trustees, Peggy McFadden, Gene Jacoby and Mary Ann Richardson, lashing out at Bowman, the cemetery manager.

She accused Bowman of sending Sauk Valley Media a copy of Coloma’s last four financial statements, which had been published in the newspaper.

Bowman acknowledged she had, saying she had the right to do so. Bowman said she had long been concerned with the township’s finances because she found wrong numbers in the reports.

Those annual statements have included the same numbers for some expense and revenue line items year after year. Burke admitted last month the statements contained errors.

Trustees: Finances are a mess

In an interview, Bowman said she told township officials about the problems she had seen in the finances. She said she was particularly concerned with the cemetery’s perpetuity account, which must be kept intact for the cemetery’s future maintenance. 

Bowman became manager in 1993 and was kept on when the township took over the cemetery in 2005.

In Wednesday’s interview, Burke said she wrote the email because she wanted the trustees “to know what I know.”

Asked whether it was wrong for Bowman to speak with others about township problems, Burke would say only that she felt betrayed.

Trustee McFadden described the finances as a mess.

“We need to start over,” she said. “After we get things in order, then we should go back and check all the other stuff. Right now, we don’t know what the numbers are.”

Trustees Jacoby and Richardson couldn’t be reached for comment. Jacoby has been a trustee for more than 35 years.

As for her future with the township, Bowman doubted Burke would fire her. And if Burke did, Bowman said, “I would find out what my rights are.”

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