November 9, 2011 09:37 AM
Missing Green in Country Club Hills?
Newly elected City Treasurer Rhonda Williams says municipal finances are in disarray in Country Club Hills—with approximately $8 million unaccounted for, she suggests "fraud."
By Robert Herguth/BGA and WGN-TV
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A financial battle over millions of taxpayer dollars is brewing in south suburban Country Club Hills between Mayor Dwight Welch and Treasurer Rhonda Williams.
She claims on average more than $8 million is unaccounted for in the town’s books and without the records, she says, "I’m going to use the F-word that there could be fraud there. Period."
Last spring, an investigation by WGN-TV and the Better Government Association reported that the Mayor of Country Club Hills was spending taxpayer money on things like a tuxedo from Nordstrom to wear when he introduces musical acts at the debt-ridden multi-million dollar stage he had built.
Our report pressured the city council to take away all but one of the dozens of city credit cards. Williams claims this hasn’t stopped city officials from spending on items like fitness club facilities, wedding gifts and dresses.
Williams says she has had a difficult time trying to get access to information. And when she tried to take one report off site, "...excuse the French, all hell broke out. The mayor tried to get me arrested."
So, the treasurer tried going straight to 1st Midwest Bank, which keeps the city’s money. "When I called Midwest bank to talk to our relationship manager he tells me that he can’t meet with me because he’s going golfing with the mayor," says Williams.
The bank is a campaign donor to the mayor. Neither seems too concerned that the city has been bouncing checks at the bank--lots of them. Williams uncovered overdrafts on check after check. Country Club Hills taxpayers are paying 1st Midwest Bank $35 for every bad check and no one said a thing.
Until she did.
Williams is calling on residents to take some action, saying "I need residents to know that these issues are going on. I need them to be outraged. I need them to come to every meeting, to call their aldermen."
Williams says there’s more strange happenings.
This summer, there were four withdrawals from the city’s account totalling about $4 million. The withdrawals, unexplained and not labeled, are just gone one day, then mysteriously reappear a few days later.
When asked if she thinks the mayor is hiding stuff she adds, "I think he’s hiding stuff because he does not want the truth to come out."
|Country Club Hills Mayor Dwight Welch (Sun-Times)
Andy Shaw with the Better Government Association says, "When the treasurer can’t get the data, when the treasurer says the numbers don’t add up, when the treasurer can’t get a fair accounting from the mayor you know you have a problem. Some outside forces have to step in to protect the taxpayers."
WGN-TV tried repeatedly to get a hold of the Mayor Welch with no success.
As for 1st Midwest Bank, a spokesman said "it sounds like Country Club Hills has some relationship issues within the city. I’m not going to comment because I’m not familiar."
As for the golf outing, he said he can’t dispute what someone said about the one in our story, but that the bank conducts business, fundraisers and community outreach with many communities.
This story was reported by BGA Editor of Investigations Robert Herguth. He can be reached at email@example.com or (312) 821-9030.
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