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Embattled Coloma Township supervisor to retire

Burke say she is leaving for health, personal reasons

Published: Thursday, May 15, 2014 1:31 p.m. CDT • Updated: Thursday, May 15, 2014 8:34 p.m. CDT
Debra Burke, superivisor of Coloma Township

ROCK FALLS – Debra Burke, the longtime supervisor of Coloma Township, plans to retire at the end of this month, a few weeks after she paid the township's fine of more than $3,000 for late financial reports.

"After deliberation, I am announcing my retirement May 31, 2014, due to personal and health issues," she said in a statement to the township's trustees at their monthly meeting Wednesday.

Burke, whose term will expire in 2017, started as supervisor in 1981. She has been recognized for her expertise in providing assistance to the poor, one of the key functions of townships.

For 4 years, though, she failed to submit the township's financial reports to the state comptroller's office. She corrected that situation in December, but the state agency still fined Coloma more than $13,000, later negotiated down to $3,200. Burke paid the penalty herself, saying she was responsible.

She also was late in publishing financial information in the newspaper, which kept Whiteside County from releasing hundreds of thousands of dollars in property tax revenue.

Additionally, for 20 years, Coloma went without an audit, although state law requires one every 4 years. Since last year, an accounting firm has been working on the township's audit. But the firm is struggling to finish it because the township has provided incomplete information, officials say.

In an interview last year, Burke broke down into tears, saying she wasn't good at math. She blamed some of the financial reporting problems, in part, on her health issues. She couldn't be reached for comment Thursday.

Under state law, the trustees must select a replacement within 60 days after a supervisor leaves, said Jerry Crabtree, associate director of the Township Officials of Illinois. If the trustees miss that deadline, the township must have a special meeting in which the township's voters choose a new supervisor. One requirement, Crabtree said, is that the supervisor be of the same political party as Burke, who ran as an independent.

Trustee Peggy McFadden said today that the township likely would advertise the position to see who is interested. She said she hadn't expected Burke to leave.

"When she handed out the statement, I was totally shocked," McFadden said.

Road Commissioner Ruthie Rogers, who has clashed with Burke on requests for public information, said she was surprised by Burke's retirement.

"I thought we were making progress. She was getting there," Rogers said. "She carried a huge amount of knowledge. In meetings, she performed flawlessly most of the time, as far as the laws."

Burke, Rogers said, had a problem with filing reports on time.

"Other than that, she was a good supervisor," Rogers said.

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