Better late than never, the adage goes.
It's an appropriate saying when discussing the change in policy in the village of Wheeling for elected officials using village credit cards and vehicles.
It's disheartening, however, that it took village officials so long to make the change. And it's a lesson for other suburbs to make sure they have tightened up their guidelines before anything gets out of hand.
In Wheeling, Village President Dean Argiris spent nearly $13,000 on a village-issued credit card from late July 2013 to October 2016. He was elected mayor in the spring of 2013.
Most charges were at restaurants and bars, an analysis of financial records shows, according to a story this week by Daily Herald staff writer Chacour Koop. His favorite spot to use the card? Market Square, a pub and restaurant about a half-mile from village hall.
Village policy states "purchasing cards shall be used for official Village of Wheeling purchases only." A new policy will require more stringent descriptions of the purpose for the expense, Village Manager Jon Sfondilis said.
For his part, Argiris has paid the village for all expenses he deemed reimbursable, though it often took months or even years to do so. He also didn't provide receipts for some purchases.
"I used that card for village-related expenses, and always with the goal of improving the village," Argiris said. "I have never intentionally used the village card for personal expenses."
Instead, Argiris said it was a mistake when he used the credit card for a $462 bill at Italian eatery Tuscany Restaurant on Oct. 22, the day the Chicago Cubs clinched a World Series berth. He subsequently gave up the purchasing card and paid the bill, but months later.
"I think that everything that was done was done in good faith," Sfondilis said.
In the end, it will be voters who decide that as Argiris has two challengers to his re-election this year. In addition to the credit card, they also can look at his use of a village vehicle without restrictions. The new policy states the village president will no longer have use of a vehicle.
Government watchdogs interviewed by Koop question what went on and caution that without strong policies, abuses could occur.
"When they start skirting one or two policies," said Ricardo Meza, the state's former executive inspector general, "that's when communities have to worry, and that's when abuses occur."
Tightening up the policy is a good move and other suburbs need to be mindful of the lesson Wheeling has learned and act more quickly if there are any concerns.