Wheeling village president race pits embattled incumbent against two challengers
Both have years of local experience
The race for Wheeling village president pits incumbent Dean Argiris -- who's fighting criticism over his questionable use of taxpayer-funded perks by touting aggressive leadership acumen -- against two challengers with years of local political experience.
Pat Horcher, a local florist on the Horcher Farm that was established in 1848, and Wheeling Park District Commissioner Mike Kurgan, a real estate broker, are vying to unseat the first-term village president.
Argiris, who was first elected to the village board in 2001, describes himself as hardworking, dedicated village president who considers the position a full-time job, leading to business and infrastructure improvements across the city. He also works as a mortgage loan originator and is in the funeral business.
Kurgan cited 16 years as a park district commissioner as the experience needed to complete projects and improve communication among school districts, the park district, the library and the village.
Horcher, who served 16 years as a trustee before leaving office in 2011 and who was a candidate for village president four years ago, has positioned himself as a reformer. He's been critical of a salary increase elected officials gave themselves, which goes into effect after the election, and of Argiris' use of a village credit card and decommissioned police SUV.
He also wants to lower salaries for top-level village employees and expand incentives for small businesses.
A Daily Herald investigation showed Argiris spent nearly $13,000 on a village credit card and drove a decommissioned police SUV without formal restrictions until questions arose about his use of the public resources. Argiris turned in the credit card and vehicle, and the village drafted policy changes intended to improve transparency.
Argiris denied charging the credit card for personal use and said he's always acted in the best interest of the village. Kurgan declined to comment on the spending, but Horcher criticized Argiris.
"It's our tax dollars," Horcher said. "This kind of abusive behavior -- this is overstepping the bounds of his authority."
Argiris said the village has improved business development by pumping millions of dollars into infrastructure improvements during his presidency. The village has completed $34 million in capital improvements the past four years with $13 million budgeted for 2017, he said.
"My philosophy has always been: If you're ready -- you have the infrastructure in place -- people will come," Argiris said. "We're seeing that."
Horcher argued the village should do more to help jump-start small businesses, not just large companies. For example, the village should analyze fees for new businesses and the use of tax increment financing districts, he said.
Kurgan questioned whether local government officials have been effectively communicating.
"That's one thing on the park board -- we truly have that good communication with the library and schools, and we've worked wonderfully together," Kurgan said.
The candidates all differed about whether village employees and elected officials are paid properly. Horcher argued salaries for department directors should be lowered to align with the incomes of village households. But Argiris said the village must remain competitive with surrounding municipalities to attract quality employees.
"To say these guys are overpaid, or whatever the case may be, I don't believe it," he said.
Kurgan supported analyzing the salaries of all employees as the park district has done to determine whether there should be changes.
Horcher also criticized a move by the village board to increase the village president's salary by 75 percent to $19,200 a year and trustee pay by 33 percent to $8,000.
"It's a public servant job. You're supposed to be serving the public," Horcher said, adding he would not accept the pay raise, which goes into effect after the election. Kurgan declined to comment on whether he'd accept the salary or try to lower pay.
Argiris defended the raise, arguing the village president would still receive less than leaders of other communities.
"It isn't out of line, especially if you work it," he said. "We work."
Election Day is April 4.