Watchdogs question Wheeling mayor's use of village credit card, vehicle
The Edgar County Watchdogs revealed in recent issues of Illinois Leaks that village of Wheeling Mayor Dean Argiris allegedly used a village-owned vehicle and the village credit card for his personal and business reasons.
The first article on Feb. 4 revealed the mayor's use of the village credit card and his failure to repay the amount in a timely manner. When questioned during public comments on Jan. 16, he claimed that he had already paid the village back for a purchase of $462 made on Oct. 22.
The watchdogs submitted a Freedom of Information Act request regarding the matter. When the copy of the check arrived, with the Mayor's personal information blocked out, it showed a date of Dec. 22. The deposit stamp on the back of the check, however, showed that the village clerk deposited it on Jan. 18. Upon checking the other copies, including the receipt for the check, the watchdogs reported that the check had been submitted to the clerk on Jan. 17.
In addition to using the village credit card for personal purchases, it appeared that Argiris also used the card for business purchases. Three checks from AIM Insurance Agency Inc. were submitted as reimbursements for the public credit card, two in 2014 and one in November.
The watchdogs questioned this use of the credit card, as the Village of Wheeling Purchasing Card Procedures clearly state that the credit cards are not to be used for personal purchases.
"Departments and the Village of Wheeling are liable for authorized charges made using the card. Purchasing cards shall be used for official Village of Wheeling purchases only. Use of the card for personal items is not permitted."
The procedures manual also supplies a form that the user must sign before being issued a credit card. No. 4 on the list of terms and conditions states, "You must follow the policy and procedures in the Purchasing Card Manual established by the Village for the use of the Card. Failure to do so may result in either revocation of your use privileges or other disciplinary action, including termination of employment."
Illinois Leaks also reported on Feb. 6 that the mayor had used a village-owned vehicle as a personal and business vehicle. Argiris was questioned regarding the use of the vehicle, a 2013 police interceptor SUV, at a meeting of the village board.
When questioned regarding his use of the vehicle at 3 a.m. in the morning, Argiris tried to tell the questioner that unless he was on his way back from Springfield, he was in bed at 3 a.m. When she persisted in questioning his use of the vehicle, he said he could use the vehicle in any manner, without restrictions.
"It is a budgeted item throughout the village here," Argiris said. "It allows me to use the vehicle for village business or any other business that I have personally, period. I have no restraints on that and it's a budgeted item."
The Edgar County Watchdogs disputed his assertion that he could use the village-owned vehicle for personal or business reasons, such as his mortgage broker business or his job at the funeral home. They contend that using a publicly owned vehicle constitutes official misconduct according to the Illinois Constitution.
The Illinois Constitution, Article VIII, Section 1 (a) states: "Public funds, property or credit shall be used only for public purposes."
The watchdog group also pointed out that the use of a publicly owned vehicle is generally considered compensation and should be reported to the IRS as such. It warned that the village manager, trustees and attorneys cannot pass an ordinance to justify the use of a vehicle for personal and private business use – the Illinois Constitution does not allow private use of public property by government officials.