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Our View

Our view: In Shorewood, loss of public trust not worth money saved in gas pump controversy

Surveillance footage shows Mayor Rick Chapman filling up the tank of his vehicle with the village's gas.
Surveillance footage shows Mayor Rick Chapman filling up the tank of his vehicle with the village's gas.

Last week, the Shorewood Village Board found itself mired in a dispute over dollars and sense.

Specifically, the conflict involved common sense and the lack thereof displayed by Mayor Rick Chapman in his use of the village gas pump to fill up his personal vehicle.

The mayor’s use of village-owned gas, which Chapman has said began in 2011, came to light in the form of an election season mailing that showed surveillance footage of Chapman at the pump and announced, “Village president helps himself to your tax dollars.”

In reality, the situation is a bit more nuanced than that.

Shorewood invoices show that since 2011, Chapman pumped about $2,585 in village-owned gas, or about 835 gallons, into his 1999 Cadillac.

Chapman has said he requested and was granted access to the village pumps while Shorewood’s village administrator position was vacant and Chapman was taking on additional duties for the village. He said he used the Cadillac exclusively for village business.

However, Trustee Edmund Murphy has said that proper procedure for using a personal vehicle for village purposes requires expenses be documented and approved by the board, and that village gas is meant for village-owned vehicles.

According to village code, privately owned vehicles can be reimbursed at a rate of 30 cents per mile. If an employee or elected official seeks reimbursement, the request must be included in a report to be voted on by the village board.

Chapman has said he’s saved the village money, and, assuming he really did use the Cadillac solely for village business, he’s right. The $2,585 in village gas would’ve translated to about $4,263 if Chapman sought reimbursement. But while Chapman may have saved the taxpayers money, he also put himself and the village at risk of losing residents’ confidence.

By failing to follow proper procedure, Chapman asked taxpayers to blindly trust him, to assume that he never used his Cadillac for personal reasons in the time he was filling it at the village pump.

Regardless of what he used the car for, the monetary cost of the gas is minimal. What’s more concerning than that expense is Chapman’s apparent failure to recognize that he’s compromised public trust.

Chapman has said that part of why he didn’t seek reimbursement for his travel expenses is because he disliked filling out expense reports.

Now, in response to the gas-pump controversy, the village’s attorney and auditors are reviewing policies on board purchases and Trustee Anthony Luciano has requested legal review of possible consequences for Chapman’s actions. Based on comments The Herald-News has received on Facebook, our readers aren’t thrilled about the situation either.

If skipping typical procedure was worth risking such an outcome, Chapman must really hate paperwork.

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