Shorewood mayor faces backlash for using village-owned gas pump
The Shorewood Village Board of Trustees reviewed Mayor Rick Chapman’s use of a Village-owned gas pump at their April 25 meeting, at which point nearly 20 residents sought to get their voices heard.
The matter was last discussed April 11 by Shorewood officials after a mailing had circulated to residents revealing Chapman’s use of Village-owned gas to fuel his personal car, without the board’s consent or knowledge.
“I want to apologize to the board for this controversy,” Chapman said. “It’s distracting from our normal business of moving Shorewood forward.”
Chapman wants his supporters to know that he’s an honest person and did not intentionally do anything wrong concerning this matter.
“The Cadillac was getting older and becoming less reliable, so I didn’t venture far from the area with it,” he said. “I had converted it to my work vehicle for the Village and the immediate area.”
Chapman recalls one instance within the last six years where he fueled another car, his Envoy, with Village-owned gas to handle Village business and said he cannot remember any other occasion where he did that. It was also during this time that Chapman started conducting Village business 20 hours per week and was on-call 24/7.
When Kurt Carroll left notice of his departure as village administrator in 2011, the mayor assumed some of the duties ascribed under the then-vacant position. Chapman began working nearly full time.
Chapman said he began communicating with Village staff about reimbursement for the additional expenses he was incurring and the difficulty he was having keeping record. Around this time, Chapman was granted a key giving him access to the fuel pump like past administrators had.
“Without some staff guidance, I had no idea who handled the process of issuing these keys,” he said.
Chapman said he wanted it to be clear that he’s not looking to blame anyone else and compared the use of the fueling pump to his use of the Village Visa card issued to him.
“Once I was issued the electronic key and was informed that it was registered to me, I felt assured that everything was done properly,” he said.
Chapman said he knew that his fueling activity would be accounted and the records would be accessible to the accounting department and the Village auditors.
“Instead of a tedious and time-consuming task of keeping a log of my travels around the Village and the surrounding area—that might be 1.5 miles here, might be 6.2 miles here and consist of multiple trips in a day and then billing the Village back for 30 cents a mile—I thought this method to be the simplest and most cost-effective,” he said.
Trustee Ed Murphy begged to differ.
“I’m sorry, but I worked too many years to think it’s too tough to turn in an expense report,” he said.
Trustee Barbara “Cookie” Kirkland referenced a news stories published by Shorewood Patch with Chapman quoted for saying, ‘I don’t like filling out paperwork. Never once did I feel like I was taking something from the Village I didn’t deserve,’ and wanted to know if there’s anything else that he feels entitled to that Village officials aren’t privy to.
Chapman negated the concern maintaining that he was never given any indication he was doing anything improper.
Village Administrator Roger Barrowman said that’s not true.
Trustee Anthony Luciano agreed saying that it’s not just a discussion of mileage, what car he used and how much gas he was pumped, it goes beyond that.
“This is beyond the scope of someone’s authority to proceed the way it was described to me what happened,” he said. “It seems to me that we’ve to a certain extent have allowed individuals to go beyond what they’re authorized to do. If any of us went down… asked for a key, it would be problem with that.”
“The fact is that we have procedures,” he said. “If we’re going to ignore procedures, what credibility do we have to the people we represent?”
Diane Lambert, chairwoman of Shorewood Area Chamber of Commerce, said shaming the mayor for his use of the Village-owned gas pump is “petty.”
“I understand policy and procedures, but to me when I look back 16 years and I see the things he has done, this blows mind,” she said.
Lambert said she thinks she can speak for the room when defending Chapman saying what’s transpired is “dirty politics.”
“That paper came out the day before the election,” she said. “Now, every single adult in this room knows that that was dirty politics.”
This comment raised discontent among members of crowd as they spoke out in uproar.
Barbara’s husband, Tom Kirkland voiced his dismay with the mayor for blaming her campaign for sending out the mailer to residents.
“She has constantly denied this,” he said. “You have pushed the subject that she did. You have been behind that 100 percent.”
Kirkland suggested the idea of ordering a polygraph test at his expense to get to the truth about the mailer and the gas.
Chapman turned down the offer during the meeting, at which point Kirkland started walking away and said he didn’t think so.
Patti McGrath, of Shorewood, questioned if there is an issue of legality with the mayor’s actions and called on Village Attorney Dave Silverman to issue a response.
Silverman said it’s not his position to judge, it’s more of a matter of determining if there is criminal intent behind his actions.
McGrath said she is disappointed by what’s transpired, and is hoping the board can resolve the matter in a way that benefits constituents.
“I think that if one person can get away with it, a whole bunch of people could get away with it,” she said. “I just want to have in our village the checks and balances.”
Kevin Monk, of Shorewood, shared that sentiment.
“I don’t think it’s so much as pointing fingers at Mayor Chapman, it’s really I think holding the board accountable for their fiduciary duty,” he said. “They’re elected officials, we elect you to make sure you know what’s going. To say that you don’t know, is concerning me.”
The Village is continuing to review its policies with regard to reimbursement.
Chapman said he would be willing to reimburse the Village for gas used to fuel his car.
Kirkland said she thinks reimbursement is appropriate.
However, Luciano disagreed.
“I’d like to move on to do the business of the village, but I think we got a pretty big piece of business to take care of right now before we move on,” he said. “I don’t think this can be handled particularly just by this board, alone. I think we need to sit down… We need to go further into this than just that.”
Murphy said it shouldn’t be assumed that expense reporting isn’t required.
“It still doesn’t recuse the requirement to report according to the items we have in our ordinances,” he said.
Chapman wanted to it be clear that he wishes to see the Village thrive, not caught up in distractions.
“From this day forward, I will record all my personal expenses including mileage and present them for reimbursement,” he said.