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Dateline Dixon: Call for more transparency

Published: Thursday, April 11, 2013 1:15 a.m. CST

DIXON – Josie Whaley is a familiar face at City Council meetings and budget workshops.

She has an interest in her community, she says, and she doesn’t want to see another $54 million go missing from city funds.

She addressed the City Council on Apr. 1 about transparency and how members vote.

“Three years ago, when I first came before the City Council, it was because an ordinance was passed that we were not aware of,” Whaley said. “We read about it in the newspaper after the fact.

“That has changed,” she said, giving credit to the City Council.

Meeting minutes, budgets and agendas are updated online in a timely fashion, she noted. Ordinances, contracts and agreements are placed on file at City Hall or online at the city’s website, www.discoverdixon.org, for 14 days to give the public time to review them before they are voted into action.

Also, board packets are made available online the night after meetings by clicking the “citizens information center” tab, then “board packets.”

However, “there’s room for more improvement,” she said.

Whaley asked about the lack of conversation on topics. For many of the City Council’s votes, there’s little to no discussion – just a motion, a second and a succession of “ayes” or “nays.”

“I still don’t understand how there’s no discussion,” Whaley said Apr. 1. “You had to have discussed the topics somewhere to see where each other’s at, or figure out what’s going on.

“I come and I’m frustrated. I’m interested and would like to know why you vote a certain way or what you voted on.”

Whaley is not the only person to have asked this question. A visitor at one of my “office hour” sessions at Books on First asked me about council members’ lack of discussion.

“I’ve been to one of their meetings,” he said. “No discussion at all; it’s like they have it predetermined how they are going to vote.”

There is a misconception that the council meeting is where all the decisions are made.

As Commissioner Dennis Considine said, the agenda is posted at City Hall and on the city’s website 48 hours before council meetings, commissioners review their board packets in preparation, and the public has 2 weeks to discuss matters placed on file – not to mention any newspaper articles written about a certain topic.

“We’ll have a face-to-face conversation if it’s something that needs to be discussed, or it’ll be discussed at the council meeting,” Mayor Jim Burke said. “On certain things where there’s not going to be a lot of controversy or difference of opinion, like a year-to-date financial summary, there’s not going to be a lot of discussion about that.

“It all depends on what the topic is,” Burke said. “For example, when we had the recommendation for the Riverfront manager, there was conversation about that ahead of time. I talked to different commissioners individually. When it came out to the council, it was a full discussion.”

If a resident is just learning about something at the City Council meeting and voicing an opinion there, they’re probably too late.

Those 2 weeks on file are for citizens to review and give input, and for the media to investigate the item.

Don’t like what’s there?

Call commissioners. Most are listed in the phone book, or call City Hall at 815-288-2145 to arrange something.

Email them: David Blackburn at dave.blackburn@discoverdixon.org, Colleen Brechon at colleen.brechon@discoverdixon.org, Jeff Kuhn at jeff.kuhn@discoverdixon.org, Mayor Burke at james.burke@discoverdixon.org, and Considine at dhconsidine@hotmail.com.

Don’t like their response?

Write a letter to Sauk Valley Media. Visit me during my office hours. Talk to fellow residents who have similar concerns to have them contact commissioners.

With that said, the City Council could do more to keep the public in the loop, especially since Whaley pointed out commissioners don’t always return calls or emails.

In Streator, a city of about 14,000 in LaSalle County, the City Council hosts Committee of the Whole workshops once a month before council meetings. Those are open meetings designed to discuss agenda topics before they are voted on. No action takes place there.

Maybe Dixon could explore that, or something similar. The City Council has to do all it can to keep the community a part of this process, after all it’s been through.

Until then, citizens will have to do their part to stay informed and let commissioners know how they feel.

Silence equals trust.

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