By Wendell Hutson, Special to the NNPA from The Chicago Crusader –
Allegations of misuse of a city credit card by Dwight Welch, long-time mayor of Country Club Hills, has evolved into a racial bomb being lobbed by public officials, along with accusations of misfeasance. Welch, a white former policeman has been mayor of the city for the past 24 years and his unsuccessful opponents in the last election—two Black aldermen – Steve Burris and Vincent Lockett-recently accused the mayor of abuse and misuse of a city credit card. Welch countered the allegations are racially motivated.
According to the U.S. Census Bureau south suburban Country Club Hills has a population of 16,169. Nearly 92 percent are Black. About 4.5 percent of the city’s residents are white. Welch maintained that the issues surrounding how he has used his city-furnished credit card are racially motivated. “These two individuals ran against me and lost. So is it any surprise that they are now trying to drum up false allegations against me?” Welch told the Crusader. “I am a white man whose constituents are majority Black. And the only reason why I have been mayor this long is because the voters want me here.”
Kendrick Walker, who is Black, has lived in Country Club Hills for the last two years and does not consider race when voting. “What difference does it make what color a candidate is? As long as that candidate is doing a good job then that is all that matters to me,” Walker, 37, said. “The only issue I have with Mayor Welch is the property taxes, which are too high.” According to Walker, her property taxes have gone from $336 to over $1,000 in two years. She has no problem with Welch as mayor, and said she has no problem with voting for a white mayor, city services are good and that economic development seems to be booming.
The city’s police chief, treasurer and eight of its 10 aldermen are Black. But race had nothing to do with allegations leveled against Welch for allegedly misusing a village issued American Express card, said Aldermen Steven Burris and Vincent Lockett. “Race did not play a part at all,” Lockett said. “The mayor misused his credit card. He created this mess himself and now he wants to use the race card.” Welch said contrary to published reports his American Express card was not revoked. “I voluntarily turned in the card to avoid any further allegations of misuse,” explained Welch. Every charge on my credit card was legitimate. And I do not have any other village issued credit cards despite what some council members are saying.”
Burris doubts if Welch’s only credit card was issued by American Express. “We are still digging through the rubble of paperwork he has created to hide inappropriate charges,” Burris said. Burris added that questionable charges for Welch include a stay at a water park and dining at fancy restaurants. And a review of Welch’s expenditures showed he spent $435 at the Apple Store, $376 at Hooters, $585 at Nordstrom, and $1,400 for charges at Build-A-Bear, Nike Town, the Disney Store, and on Broadway play tickets. His credit card expenditures included charges from the Chatham Pancake House in Country Club Hills. One charge showed $173 while another one was for $216.
Welch countered that aldermen are allotted an annual expense account of $9,000 and many of them including Burris and Lockett, have ‘questionable charges’ as well. “They’re a fine one to talk about credit card charges when you have aldermen using their expense accounts to provide college scholarships,” added Welch, who is allotted a $36,000 annual expense account and is paid an annual salary of $144,000. The fiscal year 2012 budget for CCH is $35 million, according to Welch who added that he used his credit card mostly to cover expenses as the village’s lobbyist.
“The mayor of most cities serve as its lobbyist rather than pay someone. So, when I travel, eat out or entertain prospective developers and businesses it is to benefit Country Club Hills,” added Welch. But all Country Club Hills residents don’t support Welch. “He tries to rule this town like a king. He thinks no one should question him and he does not take kind to those who oppose his views,” said Jack McAdams, 73. “This is a man who is arrogant and cares about no one but himself.”
Lockett and Burris have both questioned why the Cook County State’s Attorney office has not indicted Welch or at the very least investigate him. “We know a Black man would never be mayor of a white suburb like Schaumburg or Highland Park and walk around free if these types of allegations were swirling over his head,” Lockett said. Tandra Simonton, a spokeswoman for the Cook County State’s Attorney office, said, “we don't confirm or deny if we conducted criminal investigations.”