DIXON – At 6:30 p.m. April 16, 2012, Dixon Mayor Jim Burke called a special City Council meeting to order.
A commissioner immediately asked that the council meet behind closed doors. Everyone agreed.
The reason: They had to talk about specific personnel issues that are exempt from the state Open Meetings Act, a law that requires most discussions of a government body to be open to the public.
The members met privately for nearly 2 hours.
That wasn’t just any meeting. Earlier in the day, FBI agents had arrested Rita Crundwell, the city’s longtime comptroller, for stealing nearly $54 million from city coffers over two decades. She has since been sent to prison.
What did the council discuss in the private session?
That’s still officially secret. But it could change.
Under the Open Meetings Act, public bodies are required to review minutes of executive sessions twice a year to determine whether the need for secrecy still exists. Or they can release the minutes if they no longer see the need for confidentiality.
In September, the City Council released minutes from six closed sessions, but decided to keep those from 16 others secret, citing pending litigation and personnel matters.
In an interview this week, Mayor Jim Burke said the minutes from the others dealt with Crundwell.
The council kept the minutes secret while the city’s lawsuit against its auditors and bank was proceeding. The city blamed them for failures that allowed Crundwell’s theft.
In late September – about a week after the council’s decision on the closed-session minutes – the auditors and bank settled the lawsuit for $40 million.
On Jan. 21, the council will have its next review of closed-session minutes, Burke said. Such discussions can be held behind closed doors; the council is expected to make a decision at a later meeting, he said.
“Unless there is some compelling reason for withholding the minutes, I’m for releasing them,” the mayor said. “It’ll be interesting to review those discussions in view of everything that has transpired.”
Council member Dennis Considine said he would take the issue under advisement with the city attorney.
“Personally, I think we should release everything that happened from Day 1 to the present in our executive sessions,” he said. “There’s nothing to hide.”
Two council members were noncommittal.
“It all depends on what’s in them,” member Jeff Kuhn said. “I’ll have to see them first. It’s hard to make a blanket statement.”
Member Colleen Brechon said she would like to meet with her colleagues first. Before the city releases anything, she said, it needs to make sure a release doesn’t hurt the city.
Member Dave Blackburn didn’t return a call for comment. Since Crundwell’s arrest, he has stated that he has a policy of commenting on city issues only during meetings, not in interviews.
Not every public body reviews its minutes twice a year, as the law requires.
Dixon itself wasn’t following the rule until September. Sterling, which has only one or two closed sessions a year, has acknowledged it’s behind with its required reviews. Rock Falls reviewed its closed-session minutes in the fall and decided to keep them all secret.
After a Sauk Valley Media story in October about closed-session minutes, the Lee County Board decided to start reviewing its minutes. In November, the board voted to have the state’s attorney’s office, which serves as the county’s attorney, review the closed-session minutes in December and May every year.
The state’s attorney will make a recommendation on the minutes to the board’s executive committee next week, Assistant State’s Attorney Matt Klahn said.
County Board Chairman Rick Ketchum, D-Amboy, said he wanted to deal with the closed-session minutes this month.
“We don’t need to be dragging our feet.”
The Dixon City Council will meet at 6:30 p.m. Jan. 21 at City Hall, 121 W. Second St., on the second floor in the Council Chambers.
The council plans to begin its twice-a-year review of closed-session minutes. No decisions are expected at the meeting.
For an agenda or more information, go to www.DiscoverDixon.org or call City Hall at 815-288-1485.