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No Dixon council members support change in government form

DIXON – With less than 2 months until a November referendum, the majority of the City Council is against changing the city’s form of government.

But, ultimately, voters will decide.

Last year the council voted unanimously to place a referendum on the Nov. 4 general election ballot so that voters could choose the city’s form of government.

A referendum had been recommended by a governmental task force, which was appointed by Mayor Jim Burke and approved by the City Council, to determine the best form of government for Dixon.

The task force, which was formed in the wake of the Rita Crundwell scandal, recommended that citizens be allowed to decide which form of government was best by asking this question: “Shall the city of Dixon adopt the managerial form of municipal government?”

A no vote would keep the current commission form of government, which was altered slightly last November with the hiring of a city administrator.

A yes vote would change the city to a managerial form of government, a change Commissioner Dennis Considine said he will campaign against.

“I don’t believe that changing the form of government is in the best interest in the long term,” he said.

Marilyn Coffey will be on the other side of that campaign as the head of the citizen-led Committee to Change City Government.

The committee’s campaigning will involve brochures, which have already been distributed throughout Dixon, door-to-door visits, and some advertising.

She said the managerial form is best for the city because, among other reasons, it allows professional oversight of departments and the city’s budget.

“Nothing against the commissioners,” Coffey said, “but in [the current] form they aren’t trained to provide that sort of oversight.”

Considine said that’s why the city has department heads. The combination of commissioners, department heads, and a recently hired city administrator is a “trilogy” that will work for the city. he said.

Among the differences between the two forms is the role and power of the council. 

The managerial form gives, through state law, executive authority to a city manager and policymaking authority to elected officials. In the current commission form, elected officials have both executive and policymaking authority.

Commissioner Jeff Kuhn said he was “leaning toward” keeping the form the same because of the role the commissioners play.

“I do believe we need to use the commissioners as a resource and not just for policy,” he said. “The more hands-on they are, the better off the city will be.”

Kuhn also doesn’t like the idea of giving such power to one person. Based on how much time he puts toward street projects, Kuhn doesn’t think a city manager would be able to focus on all areas of importance to the city.

Both forms of government have advantages and disadvantages, Burke said, and he wants to let voters decide.

“When [the task force] came out with the recommendation, I took the position to put it up to the voters and let them decide,” the mayor said. “I made up my mind right there that I wasn’t going to take a position publicly.”

In November, Commissioner Colleen Brechon said she was against the change. On Friday. she said her stance was the same.

She said she hadn’t seen or heard anything that would change her mind because she didn’t like the idea of giving one person control of some parts of the city.

Commissioner Dave Blackburn didn’t respond to requests for comment.

Last November, Blackburn said he would remain neutral on the issue.

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