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Rock Island City Council To Explore Reforms To Aldermanic Expense Accounts

Rock Island City Council members say they will explore making changes to how their expense accounts are run.

Although aldermanic expense accounts were not on the agenda for Monday night's meeting, the seven City Council members discussed the issue, which has propelled to public attention after The Dispatch and Rock Island Argus found that former Alderman Virgil Mayberry used his account to pay for personal expenses totaling hundreds of dollars.

The aldermen agreed that they would explore potential reforms at a study session on July 8.

Currently, each alderman is given a city-issued credit card with $4,000 to spend annually at their discretion. This is in addition to the $6,000 stipend each alderman receives from the city.

"The problem I have is that if things are being put on a purchase card and then we're approving them two months later, there's really no going back at that point," said Alderman Jenni Swanson. "It's already been paid. And I guess the concern that I have is you look at those purchase card values of $4,000 per alderman, that's $28,000, and in all honesty, we don't have money, and how many potholes can that $28,000 fill?"

Rock Island Mayor Mike Thoms discussed the possibility of removing city-issued credit cards from aldermanic use, instead requiring aldermen to pay for expenses with their own money before requesting reimbursement from the city after submitting receipts.

Another option, Thoms said, would be to eliminate individual aldermanic expense accounts altogether, replacing them with one unified fund for professional development.

Alderman Dylan Parker suggested that individual aldermanic expense accounts should be maintained, but with greater accountability, adding that one alderman's actions are not indicative of the City Council as a whole.

"This is not a slush fund," said Parker. "One alderman went off and wasted a whole bunch of money on stupid purchases. Do not characterize my request as, 'I can go off and do whatever I want with my funds.'"

The Dispatch/Argus found that Mayberry used his expense account to pay for dry cleaning, custom jewelry, and a bulletproof vest.

"That $4,000 is not an extension of your salary," said Swanson. "It is not your personal, private fund to spend on whatever you feel like spending on."

Some other current and former aldermen have come under scrutiny after the Dispatch/Argus found that they transferred excess money from their expense accounts to charities, nonprofit organizations, and other city funds. The Dispatch/Argus found this practice to be used by aldermen James Spurgetis, Dylan Parker, Joshua Schipp, and David Geenen. Schipp is no longer on the City Council after choosing not to run for reelection in 2018.

"The purpose of that fund is to go ahead and provide for continuing education, professional development," said Swanson. "If you want to fund something private and personally, then use your money that you get paid for doing this job.…I would like to ask then that we don't spend money on our personal passions and pet projects that could be better well spent within the city, for a city that actually needs to have some things done."