- Associated Press - Tuesday, April 21, 2015

April 18, 2015

Sauk Valley Media

Sun shines upon Dixon, 3 years later

April 17, 2012, was a dark day for Dixon.

The city’s comptroller, Rita Crundwell, was arrested on one federal count of wire fraud. FBI agents led her in handcuffs from City Hall.

Shock, dismay and anger followed bombshell revelations that Crundwell had stolen nearly $54 million over 2 decades, and that she had spent it lavishly on herself and a vast horse-breeding empire.

Dixon residents wondered how the thefts could have happened for so long.

They also wondered why Crundwell had been released on her own recognizance.

People in other communities snickered at Dixon’s dire straits and how one city employee could have hoodwinked the mayor, council, other city officials, and nearly 16,000 residents.

Crundwell’s lavish lifestyle should have been a red flag, but most people thought her horse-breeding business was the source of her wealth.

Contrast those dark days of April 2012 to a brighter April 2015.

Friday marked the third anniversary of the Crundwell arrest, and Friday’s sunny skies reflected a more optimistic mindset for the community as a whole.

Consider what has happened over the past 3 years.

Crundwell was convicted of the massive theft and sentenced to nearly 20 years in federal prison.

Her empire was liquidated, and nearly $10 million was turned over to the city.

A successful lawsuit settlement generated a net of nearly $30 million more.

Federal marshals continue to pursue other Crundwell assets.

Meanwhile, 76 percent of city voters in November approved a new city managerial form of government to replace the antiquated commission government under which Crundwell’s thievery prospered, undetected, for so long.

To complete the transformation, voters on April 7 elected a new mayor, Liandro Arellano Jr., and four new members of the city council, Mike Venier, Jesse Arjes, Mitch Tucker and Christopher Bishop.

All five men are committed to the successful implementation of the city manager government, which will professionalize the management of the city and greatly reduce the chances that a Crundwell-style theft could ever occur again.

Current city council members, led by Mayor Jim Burke, set the stage for the city’s new beginning. They labored to do the right thing, after learning 3 years ago how they and city residents were betrayed by Crundwell. Bringing in a new finance director, separating the responsibilities for handling city funds, and hiring a city administrator were positive steps forward.

Friday’s sunshine was entirely appropriate for Dixon. The dark days of the Crundwell scandal are in the past. We hope that brighter days are on the horizon.

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April 18, 2015

Belleville News-Democrat

Fixing Illinois finances may cause local pain

The taxpayers of Illinois understand Alan Dunstan’s pain.

Dunstan, the Madison County Board chairman, is fretting about plans to cut or eliminate local government’s share of the state income tax. “We know the state has to balance their budgets. We have concerns that they will balance it on local budgets.” Those sentiments are shared by many local leaders.

But while the taxpayers understand it, they frankly don’t have a lot of sympathy for it.

For years the state especially and local governments also have been balancing their budgets on the backs of taxpayers. Instead of living within their means, they raised taxes and fees and, in the case of the state, just let the debt rack up to be paid at some future date. Well, with the election of Republican Gov. Bruce Rauner, the future has arrived.

Dunstan said Madison County and other local governments cut their spending during the recession. “Don’t make us make additional cuts when we didn’t cause the problems at the state level.”

It may not be fair to expect local governments to do more because the state didn’t do enough before now, but it may be necessary. Frankly, taxpayers are focused on their bottom line. Whoever’s doing the taxing, it all comes out of the taxpayers’ pocket.

It’s a shame it has taken so long for the state to face up to its fiscal failings. But if Democrats like Dunstan had insisted on financial accountability back when Democrats controlled the governor’s office as well as the state House and Senate, local governments probably wouldn’t be facing this harsh fiscal predicament.

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April 16, 2015

Rockford Register-Star

Keep giving, but please be smart about it

Tragedies such as the tornadoes that devastated northern Illinois last week tend to bring out the best in people.

The support for tornado victims in Fairdale, Rochelle and Boone County has been tremendous. About 1,500 volunteers have helped with cleanup. Thousands of essentials such as bottled water, cleaning supplies and toiletries have been donated. Money also has poured in to help victims put their lives back together.

It’s natural that we feel compelled to help. We see the destruction through our television sets, our newspaper website and printed pages and relive the disaster through social media. Our eagerness to help is magnified when the trouble hits so close to our own homes.

However, there can be too much of a good thing, especially when it comes to donating items.

Officials for the village of Kirkland and city of Rochelle have received so much that they’ve asked for donations of goods to stop. They’re running out of space to store all the items that have been donated, and sorting has become a full-time job for some volunteers whose services could be better used cleaning up the area.

People should give from the heart, not to clean out their basements. Some of the items donated are not appropriate for people who have had their homes blown away.

Women’s high heels? We’re sure the donors meant well, but realistically the tornado victims are not quite ready to dress for a night on the town.

Listen to Juanita Rilling, director of the Center for International Disaster Information, who encourages people “to connect before they collect.” Rilling, who has worked most of her life in disaster relief, has been preaching “smart compassion” since 2011.

The gist is to be practical with your donation. Sending a lot of stuff to people who have nowhere to put it is not very practical. If you have items you want to get rid of, have a garage sale and donate the proceeds.

We don’t mean to discourage giving - we want you to be smart about it.

While we admire the generosity of people who have been willing to help, we abhor those who seek to take advantage of people to line their own pockets.

The Illinois Attorney General’s office will oversee a registration checkpoint for contractors seeking access to Rochelle and Fairdale storm sites to screen for fraudulent home repair and supply businesses.

It’s sad to know that storm victims need to be vigilant about such things when there’s so much work to do to rebuild their lives.

For the rest of us, we need to be sure our gifts are smart and effective. Remember it’s about the victims, not about you.

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