With a salary of more than $140,000 a year, Dwight Welch is among the highest-paid elected leaders in the suburbs—where many village presidents and mayors get only token salaries.
But a generous paycheck isn’t the only perk of his trade, the BGA found.
Welch, 61, also has a $36,000-a-year expense account, which he said he uses for city-related trips, meetings and—especially—meals. (The BGA and WGN-TV previously reported that Welch and a top aide used city credit cards to pay for about $80,000 in food and drinks in 2010—covering everything from drinks on a Lake Michigan cruise ship to fried chicken at Hooters.)
Plus, he gets a free car and free gas.
And health care, a $600 clothing allowance, a mobile phone and numerous free tickets to the theater in town—a venue owned by the city and featuring big-name musical acts.
All funded by taxpayers in the middle-class south suburb, where median household income is around $59,000 a year, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.
“I think it’s a bit much for a town of 16,000 people,” Ald. Vincent Lockett, who unsuccessfully ran against Welch this past spring, said about Welch’s compensation. “He’s taking advantage.”
Welch, however, counters that his compensation is well known, and the voters don’t seem to mind, since they’ve kept him in office for more than two decades.
“It’s not a hidden thing—the people in town know,” said Welch, adding that those on the City Council each get a $10,000 annual expense account.
Meanwhile, Welch’s decades of government service mean he also can retire in relative comfort—since he’ll likely benefit directly or indirectly from four public-sector pension plans, according to interviews, and pension records obtained under the Illinois Freedom of Information Act.
Welch, a former finance official for late Cook County Board President John Stroger, already is pulling in roughly $34,000 annually from the Cook County Pension Fund, records show.
For his years working for the Country Club Hills government—where in addition to being mayor, he’s been serving as public safety director—he stands to get tens of thousands more in pension money from the Illinois Municipal Retirement Fund, if and when he retires.
He used to be vested in the Country Club Hills Police Pension, and the State Universities Retirement System of Illinois—covering his time as a Country Club Hills cop, and as a college instructor at, among other places, Governors State University. But he cashed out his contributions in, respectively, 1986 and 2007, collecting a total of about $26,000—some of which Welch said he used for living expenses while running for office, some of which was reinvested, according to records and interviews.
Welch’s campaign fund also has become a source of revenue for the mayor. The fund, which collects donations from political supporters, pays Welch regular “rent,” according to records from the Illinois State Board of Elections.
Welch got into hot water a few years back with the board for using his campaign fund to pay for renovations to his garage, which doubles as his campaign headquarters. He ended up paying back the money, but said the agency allows him to collect rent. (A state elections board official told the BGA rent is not a “prohibited expenditure.”)
“I’ve been running my campaign out of my garage…it’s not like a regular garage, it’s like a house,” Welch told the BGA. “We have meetings every week here at 7 p.m., year round…We’ve got state approval on this: we charge off $950 a month for maintenance…it’s not paid every month…we only do it when we need it.”
Welch also defended his government income, saying he’s a full-time mayor, a rarity in the suburbs, and works seven days a week, even taking the helm of plow trucks in the winter.
“I’m very active, I work every day, I work on the weekends,” Welch said. “I’m pretty well off, I get a pension . . . and a very nice salary from the community. I earn it. I don’t need to live off the city on anything.”
As for the pensions, he added: “I earned every one of my pensions, and I’m not getting a pension from the police department and I should have gotten that…I don’t care what people say…I’m following the rules.”
This story was reported and written by Robert Herguth, the BGA’s editor of investigations. Contact us with tips, suggestions and complaints at (312) 821-9030, or at email@example.com.
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