Mount Carroll: More Contention and Residents Speak Out
By JOHN HUGGINS | For The Prairie Advocate News
MOUNT CARROLL – The contention reared its ugly head again at the February 12 Mount Carroll City Council meeting. The mayor, alderman, the clerk, and several citizens in the audience were all caught in the fray.
Mayor Carl Bates brought up a letter to the editor written by Alderman Bob Sisler regarding the auditor’s report. Bates stated that Sisler was taking comments “completely out of context and put it in quotes. Had he quoted the whole paragraph, it doesn’t sound like what he’s quoting.”
City Attorney Ron Coplan said, “If there is a lack of understanding of what the auditor is saying, then maybe it is appropriate to have the auditor come back and explain the language. Many of the deficiencies that were raised are boiler plate deficiencies you will probably find in 95 percent of the audits across western Illinois. If you have experience, background, and are aware of what audits say, you will find those things. They are a recognition of the inability of most local communities to fund and staff to the level where you can eliminate deficiencies. They are routinely recited in audits.
“It’s not a deficiency in the sense that it’s something the city is able to take care of,” Coplan continued. “I think the auditor’s comments reflect that. It’s just an observation that it would be nice if you could afford to have all the checks and balances. In other words, one person receives the bill and authorizes the payment, the second person writes the check, and a third person gets the canceled check when it comes back in and checks it off. You can’t afford staff to do all that. People wind up multitasking. The checks and balances are based largely on the competency and honesty of your employees.”
During the general audience comment section of the meeting the first citizen to speak stated, “I think I trust the competency and honesty of all my city authorities.”
The next citizen to speak said, “It seems like this room here, part of it, and the council are all kind of down on Doris (Bork) and Bob (Sisler) when they ask questions in here about different things. Now if you realize if they had Doris and Bob on the Dixon city council that lady wouldn’t have gotten by with that stuff. It’s possible they could have caught her in five years instead of 20 years.”
A third citizen said, “I remember years ago we had a treasurer. I’m not accusing Julie (Cuckler) of nothing because I don’t think she does nothing wrong. She does her job well. But everybody needs somebody to look over their shoulder today. We should have kept the city treasurer.”
“You have a treasurer now,” responded Cuckler. “Cyndi Wiersema is the treasurer. There are two people in here. And we share the duties.”
Alderman Mike Risko stated, “We are facing a group that is continuously attacking the council with not a shred of evidence. The auditor has been challenged, the attorney has been challenged, the clerk has been challenged, and the mayor has been challenged. There is no other way to put this thing to bed but to have this audit. Now we have to get a price and say ‘is this worth it?’ Maybe we should get a free forensic audit. If these accusers have a shred of evidence that something is wrong, let them turn it in to the Attorney General. I’ve got the number right here. They will come in and check it out.”
Former Mount Carroll Alderman and candidate for City Clerk, Nina Cooper spoke up, “I have a question for you, Mike. Do you actually read the financial reports you get?”
“I do,” responded Risko.
“Do you look at it relative to the information you have for banking?” continued Cooper. “Do you ever compare those figures?”
“I did,” answered Risko.
“And you don’t see anything wrong there?” asked Cooper.
“I don’t see anything wrong,” answered Risko.
“Okay. There are many discrepancies,” Cooper replied. “Balances in virtually all the accounts do not agree with what is in the bank. And maybe it’s just an accounting error. Maybe that’s what the problem is.” Cooper sighted various examples. “You really need to go back and look at those figures.”
Alderman Doug Bergren inquired, “Why didn’t these accounting firms catch that? That seems very simple.”
Cooper said, “Those are not things the auditors go looking for.”
“Continuity is not one thing they look for?” questioned Bergren. “Wow. All of them have been this incompetent all these years? Incredible.”
“Don’t be surprised,” stated Cooper. “Auditors are not necessarily looking for the things we are talking about. And the statistics I’ve seen [state] that auditors only pick up less than 10 percent of errors in accounts. So I think, before you seem so completely confident about your position, you really should spend some more time reading those reports. I’ve spent a large number of hours going through them.”
Risko stated, “If you’ve got something, take it to the Attorney General.”
Cooper returned, “There is lots of evidence, but you’ve got your eyes closed. Read the reports.”
Sisler interjected, “Do you have any accounting or financial background?”
“Yes,” answered Cooper. “I have a master’s degree in finance.”
Another citizen said, “Doris Bork, Mr. Sisler, and (Cooper) go to Doris Bork’s house and have meetings. I’ve seen all three vehicles over at Doris’ house at the same time. And I think it is wrong.”
Bork responded, “The three of us are on another committee not related to the City at all.”
“It looks bad,” the citizen said.
This banter continued on for another ten minutes until the meeting adjourned.
Public Hearing for Grant Application
Prior to the meeting, Sharon Pepin of Community Planning and Funding Services lead a public hearing for a grant application. The application is for a Community Development Assistance Program (CDAP) Public Infrastructure grant from the Illinois Department of Commerce & Economic Opportunity (DCEO).
The project the City of Mount Carroll is requesting funds is for sanitary sewer improvements to correct inflow and infiltration issues of roughly 3,000 linear feet of Mill Street. The estimated cost of the project is $135,800. The City is applying for $103,300 (approximately 76 percent). Some of the remaining costs can be met by in-kind contributions by city personnel.
In Other Business
- Opened bids for the two dump trucks the City was selling off. High bids were $7,500 and $5,750.
- Contributed $25 to the after prom committee.
- Approved the purchase of 25 flags for a cost of $359.45.
- The mayor will put together a Request for Proposals (RFP) for quotes for a forensic audit.
- Will pay royalty fees of $320 to American Society of Composers, Authors and Publishers (ASCAP).