Wheeling Village President Dean Argiris defended himself vigorously against accusations he's used taxpayer-funded perks for personal use during a village meeting Monday, and former local leaders showed up to criticize and praise the embattled village president.
Argiris, who's fending off scrutiny about use of a village credit card and retired police SUV, interrupted resident Deborah Wilson -- a frequent critic of the village president. He had just finished listening to a series of speakers criticize him during the public comment part of the meeting.
"We've taken actions and made corrections," Argiris said. "But you continue to bring up the same items that serves no purpose other than personal character assassination toward me and my family and members of this board."
Argiris used a village credit card for numerous purchases that had no listed public purpose, which he paid back months or years later, and drove a decommissioned police department vehicle without restrictions on its use. He has consistently denied using taxpayer money for personal gain.
The village drafted new policies after Wilson, Edgar County Watchdogs -- the group whose probe into questionable spending at the College of DuPage led to the ousting of longtime President Robert Breuder -- and the Daily Herald began investigating Argiris' use of taxpayer-funded perks.
Argiris recently voluntarily returned the police SUV and turned in the credit card shortly after charging $462 at Tuscany Restaurant in October, a purchase he called a mistake and repaid.
On Monday, Bill Spangenberg, a former village trustee, criticized the board.
"On a day-to-day basis, village business to our citizens means streetlights, sidewalks, water, police and fire services," Spangenberg said. "But we also expect integrity, credibility and honesty from our elected officials. Unfortunately, our expectations from our elected officials have not been met."
Spangenberg asked the board to roll back pay raises for trustees and the village president that take effect after the election April 4; re-establish an ethics commission; and pass an ordinance requiring political candidates to disclose information such as pending litigation, bankruptcy cases and criminal arrests or convictions. Argiris pleaded guilty to soliciting a prostitute in 1994, and he filed for bankruptcy days after voters elected him in 2013.
"We need to erase the perception that Wheeling is open to corruption," Spangenberg said.
Argiris' political allies spoke at the meeting, too. Bill Hein, a former village president who resigned as a trustee last year, said he couldn't understand the recent criticism directed at the board.
"This (board) has been a hallmark of renovation, thoughtfulness, and concern for citizens, and I know this for a fact because I served with all of you on previous boards and as president of this community," Hein said.
He predicted "the citizens of this community have common sense, and it will prevail" in the election.
Argiris has been campaigning with incumbent trustees Ken Brady, Mary Krueger and Mary Papantos under the mantra "Keep Wheeling Rolling," touting business and development accomplishments the past four years.
Political newcomer Donald Lee Waller is the fourth candidate vying for three open board seats. Business owner Pat Horcher, a former trustee, and Wheeling Park District Commissioner Mike Kurgan are also running for village president.