Lessons from Dixon
Dixon, Illinois is 93 miles West of Forest Park. The town of Dixon’s comptroller, Rita Crundwell was recently indicted by Federal authorities for having stolen $30 million no wait $53 million from the town’s coffers over her decades long ‘reign’ as finance chief. I’m loath to quote Dixon’s famous son, Ronald Reagan but Crundwell gives credence to the ‘nine words’ he feared “I’m from the government, and I’m here to help.”
Both Dixon (pop. 16,000) and Forest Park (pop. 15,000) use the City Commission form of municipal government, which dates to the aftermath of the 1900 hurricane that devastated Galveston, Texas. Of 1,300 municipalities in Illinois, approximately 50 (2006 statistics) still have this form of government. Elected officials bear responsibility for facets of government like public safety, finance, public works, etc. A disadvantage of City Commissions is that the officials aren’t professionals trained and experienced to supervise those aspects of city government. This may have actually been evident in Dixon as former finance commissioner Roy Bridgeman lauded Crundwell as an “asset” who “looks after every tax dollar as if it were her own,” … and she did just that!
Crundwell stomped on the ‘checks and balances’ that would’ve revealed her chicanery to other Dixon officials.
Crundwell was able to open a bank account without anyone knowing (because she picked up all the mail and filtered anything related to that account). There was a bank account of city money in the name of an individual rather than the city. No one else ever reviewed a listing of city bank accounts. One person was able to write checks without anyone else approving or signing off on them. A relative performed her job any time she was out of the office.
There were audits but they didn’t pick up on the malfeasance. Audit reports went to the State Comptroller’s office Springfield but seem to have been just ‘filed’. “With the publicity the Dixon story has drawn, the Illinois Government Finance Officers Association is reminding its members around the state to check out their internal controls as well. I certainly hope Forest Park officials are taking heed.
Gary Ghertner Forest Park