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Rock Falls conference tab: Nearly $12K

Hundreds spent on seafood meal

One and a half pounds of Alaskan king crab costs $71.25 a plate at Hugo’s Frog Bar & Fish House in downtown Chicago.

Two such meals were included on a dinner receipt for Rock Falls officials during a conference in mid-October.

As with past years, the city of Rock Falls far outpaced Sterling and Dixon in spending at the annual conference of the Illinois Municipal League.

In mid-October, two officials each from Sterling and Dixon attended the annual 3-day meeting of the Illinois Municipal League at the Hilton in downtown Chicago, while six from Rock Falls took part.

Rock Falls forked out $11,884 for lodging, food and other expenses at the conference, with Dixon and Sterling spending $4,163 and $2,173, respectively.

Most years, Rock Falls officials get together for a dinner during the conference. 

They typically spend hundreds of dollars – for instance, forking out $671 in 2012.

In 2013, the city paid $783 for dinner at Hugo’s Frog Bar & Fish House, but City Attorney Jim Reese, who attended along with his wife, later offset that amount by paying the city $200. The total cost of the meal amounted to $65 a person. With Reese’s contribution for him and his wife, the taxpayers’ tab was $58 a meal for the remaining people.

Six city officials – Reese, Mayor Bill Wescott, City Administrator Robbin Blackert and aldermen Mark Vandersnick, Glen Kuhlemier and Dave Hand – and their spouses attended the dinner, according to city documents.

Two people got the Alaskan king crab plate, while three ordered Chilean sea bass, which cost $39.50 each. Another person went with stone crab colossal for $46.

Four people had dessert, with the most expensive being $12.75. 

Three coffees were listed on the receipt, but no other beverages. Perhaps some paid for drinks with their own money.

The Hilton hotel rooms cost $222 a night during the conference, with everyone getting “group special valet parking” for $47.60 every day. The mayor stayed 5 days. Four of the days, he used the parking service, which amounted to $190.50.

During the conference, officials from cities throughout the area, including Rock Falls, went on a moonlight dinner cruise sponsored by Willett, Hofmann & Associates, a Dixon-based engineering firm that does work for municipalities. 

In August, Sauk Valley Media found that the travel budget for the Rock Falls City Council and mayor were higher than other towns. In previous years, it was about $15,000 – 3 times larger than Sterling’s and 5 times larger than Dixon’s, according to their budgets. Both of those towns are about twice as large as Rock Falls.

For this fiscal year, Rock Falls increased its travel budget for the council and mayor to $20,000.

Sometimes, Rock Falls spends more than budgeted. In fiscal year 2009, elected officials’ travel spending was more than $23,000.

Rock Falls officials note that their city has more responsibilities. For instance, the city runs electric and water utilities, while Sterling does not. 

Rock Falls City Administrator Robbin Blackert said she picks up valuable information at conferences.

“I learn a lot about labor negotiations. We have five collective bargaining units,” she said. “We have contracts that we have to negotiate.”

For Sterling, Mayor Skip Lee and Alderman John Stauter attended in October. Each year, half of the council is invited to go to the conference, Lee said. This year, only Stauter could attend.

“We do that for budgetary reasons,” the mayor said. “We have a fairly experienced council. If we had a younger, less experienced council, we would probably send more people.”

What they spent

Here's what each city spent on 2013 Illinois Municipal League Conference:

Dixon $4,163

Rock Falls $11,884

Sterling $2,173

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