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COUNTRY CLUB HILLS (CBS) — With little oversight and scant record keeping, south suburban Country Club Hills aldermen have spent thousands of dollars on cell phone bills, charging taxpayers for multiple phone lines and cell phones for family members, a SouthtownStar analysis has found.
During the past two years, alderman have racked up more than $33,000 in cell phone bills, the analysis of city phone records found. Residents of the city are paying for the charges even as the alderman submit incomplete documentation detailing their expenses.
“That’s a lot of money for cell phones,” Illinois Campaign for Political Reform deputy director David Morrison said. “If you want to talk so much, they should negotiate better deals.”
The city covers the phone bills as part of the aldermen’s annual expense accounts. Aldermen pick their cell carriers — such as AT&T and Sprint — and are not required to submit detailed bills.
Aldermen get paid about $31,000 to be on the city council and have $9,000 expense accounts that in the past have paid for dinners, a gym membership and cash gifts for friends and family and charities, among other things.
Ald. Steven Burris (4th), who has wracked up nearly $16,000 in expenses in two years, has the highest cell phone bills of any alderman. Records show that Country Club Hills taxpayers have paid more than $6,800 for Burris’ cell phone use since 2009.
“My phone is my office,” Burris said.
Burris, who previously has blasted Mayor Dwight Welch and former city manager Henrietta Turner for spending a combined $75,000 at various restaurants in 2010, said he would charge the city for his office’s rent, computers, and fax machine if he had an office.
He doesn’t. Still, Burris routinely charges the city $300 or more in monthly cell phone bills. Sprint billed Burris $479.23 in July, $334.85 in June, $434.28 in May, and $349.91 in December, records show.
“I laugh at that,” Burris said. “You don’t know what kind of phone package I have.”
And that’s true for most of the alderman, who are only required to submit their phone statements — not detailed bills — to get reimbursed.
Burris, the city council’s finance committee chairman, said aldermen are asked to submit their bill totals, not the breakdown of actual charges. In some cases, aldermen have submitted copies of their bank statements as proof.
The limited statements the aldermen have submitted to the city have shown Ald. John Edwards (1st), Cynthia Singleton (1st), Thomas Comein (3rd), and James Ford (4th) have charged the city for second phone lines.
Aldermen who also got reimbursed for their cell phone bills included Robert Battie (5th) who spent nearly $3,100, Lillian Lee (2nd) who spent more than $3,600, Tyrone Hutson (3rd) who spent about $1,500, and Frank Martin (5th) who spent nearly $3,800.
Edwards, who was elected in April, is letting taxpayers pick up his son’s cell phone bill as well, he said. In June and July, Edwards wracked up $241 in phone bills including charges for his son. Edwards said his son’s line costs $10 per month.
Edwards said he did not consider the phone bill charges newsworthy.
Ford also is paying $9.99 for his second line through AT&T’s family plan. He denied that a family member was using a line and said that having the two lines was his “personal requirement.”
“I can’t help that,” Ford said, adding that no family members were getting taxpayer-funded phones. “I can’t do anything about that.”
Records show that Singleton was charging the city for two phone lines from December 2008 through April 2009. But a cell phone bill from January 2010 listed Singleton as only paying for one line.
Singleton, who was reimbursed nearly $5,250 in cell phone bill statements since 2009, claimed her son was on her account briefly.
“(Sprint) screwed it up,” she said. “It was supposed to be added to my husband’s cell phone bill instead of mine.”
Singleton said the city never paid for her son’s cell phone charges.
Williams, who has billed the city $4,839 in cell phone bills, also had another line on his account but he was only reimbursed for his expenses.
Comein, who has been reimbursed $1,762 in phone bills since March 2009, just added a second phone line in June. Charges from the two lines totaling up to $188.24 added up to his highest monthly bill.
“I’m not going to discuss that with you,” Comein said before hanging up the phone.
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