DIXON – The Dixon City Council could make a decision whether to fire Shawn Ortgiesen as soon as Thursday.
Like last Thursday, the city council again will hold a special meeting at 1 p.m. Thursday, take public comment, then enter into a closed session.
An internal audit discovered Ortgiesen, city engineer and director of public works and personnel, tallied more than $13,500 in personal expenses on a city-issued credit card from April 2007 to last month. He paid back about $5,000 but left a balance of $8,630.83 unpaid.
A letter signed by Mayor Jim Burke was sent to Ortgiesen Thursday, informing him of the meeting and offering him the opportunity to comment “on all relevant matters,” Burke said.
“After he’s commented, he’ll be excused, and a decision will be made,” Burke said. “We’ll come back into open session and announce that decision.”
Attorney Tim Zollinger, who spoke on behalf of the city last Thursday, said the council is working to give Ortgiesen his “due process,” which includes giving him the chance to share his side of the story with commissioners, which he has not yet done.
“Due process is not always expedient and sometimes can conflict with the public’s desire for immediate action,” Zollinger said. “We’re going to comply with our constitutional obligation and proceed fairly and appropriately.”
Ortgiesen did not attend the Thursday afternoon meeting and cannot be compelled to attend this week’s.
Burke said he will talk with commissioners individually to suggest ideas about moving forward without Ortgiesen, who handled the city’s personnel, public works and engineering duties.
As of last week, he’d spoken only with one commissioner, he said. The matter cannot legally be addressed in closed session if two or more commissioners are not present.
There are two firms in Dixon that can be used for engineering services in the interim, if needed, Burke said. Ortgiesen’s responsibility as a public works and personnel director will be discussed by commissioners.
“We have ideas, but we don’t want to put them out there just yet,” Burke said. “I want to bring all the commissioners up to speed, but we’re not adrift on this.”
When asked why he didn’t address the issue during open session Thursday, Burke said he wanted to keep the focus on Ortgiesen’s due process.
“I want to handle things one at a time,” Burke said. “We may very well talk about it in open session Monday (during the city’s regular council meeting), but I want to get their thoughts and feedback first.”
Burke was unable to give any updates on a possible criminal investigation.
Dixon Police Chief Danny Langloss has said that to avoid a possible conflict of interest or any impropriety, he will work with Lee County State’s Attorney’s Office to find an appropriate agency to investigate Ortgiesen’s actions and to determine if criminal charges will be filed.
‘You Dropped the Ball’
Business owner Li Arellano told the Dixon City Council last Thursday afternoon that it’s time for a new form of local government.
The soonest a change in government can made, however, is the next election, in November 2014, according to Illinois law.
Arellano’s remarks were met with applause from about 50 people who crowded into city council chambers at a special meeting where commissioners said they would take no action just yet with Shawn Ortgiesen, city engineer and director of public works and personnel.
Almost a year after trusted comptroller Rita Crundwell was arrested for stealing nearly $54 million from city funds over the course of 20 years, an internal audit discovered that Ortgiesen tallied more than $13,500 in personal expenses on a city-issued credit card from April 2007 to last month. He paid back about $5,000 but left a balance of $8,630.83 unpaid.
Many residents showed up last Thursday afternoon to voice opinions and to hear whether commissioners would fire Ortgiesen. Frances Ayars held a sign outside of City Hall that said “Fire Ort.”
Of the 10 who commented at the meeting, some called for Mayor Jim Burke and Finance Commissioner David Blackburn to resign; others, like Arellano, said it’s time for the city’s commission form of government to go.
“It’s not working,” Arellano said. “No corporation would put a $10 million to $25 million business in five, part-time commissioners’ hands.”
According to state statute, petition signatures equal to at least 25 percent of the number of votes cast for the candidates for mayor at the last municipal election would be needed to ask voters if they want to dump the commission form of government, or 10 percent would be needed to adopt the city manager form.
If enough signatures are gathered, the question could appear on the ballot at the next November election.
Burke has put together a task force to explore the city’s commission form, in which each department head is responsible for his or her department, with no direct oversight.
The task force, made up of Bill Wadsworth, Tom Shaw, Jack Schrauth, Kelly Allen, Jim Marshall, the Rev. Michael Cole and Marilyn Coffey, is expected to meet next month.
Emotions ran high at times at last week’s meeting, where angry residents saying closure over City Hall scandals will not come until the mayor and commissioners hold themselves accountable.
“A captain with integrity goes down with the ship,” Dion Day said. “We still have you Mayor Burke and you, Mr. Blackburn. ... You may not have had anything to do with it, but as citizens, we look at it as you guys dropped the ball, and you’re still here, like nothing happened.”
Others went as far as to call for resignations, and word spread at the meeting that there is a petition going around to remove Burke.
Illinois does not allow for elected officials at the municipal level to be removed from office through a recall vote, said Larry Frang of the Illinois Municipal League.
Elected officials cannot be removed unless they fail to perform their duties, move out of district or commit a felony, Frang said.
“Even if you think we’re a bunch of dumb hillbilly rednecks, that does not matter, we are your bosses,” Jordan Bowman told council members, adding the people will get to make their determination at the next municipal election in two years.
Bowman also cited a quote from former President Ronald Reagan: “’Government does not tell the people what it can and cannot do, we the people tell the government what it can and cannot do.’”
The council will meet at 1 p.m. Thursday at City Hall to take public comment before going into closed session to discuss the employment status of Shawn Ortgiesen.
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