Accusations fly at Sparrow

By Michael Berg

The mayoral race is heating up with accusations flying against incumbent DeKalb Mayor Greg Sparrow.

In what DeKalb Mayor Greg Sparrow called a “politically-motivated attack,” 6th Ward Alderman Jamie Pennington announced Friday that city money and Sparrow’s personal campaign funds paid some of the same expenses for trips to national meetings.

Pennington said he filed an official complaint Friday with the State Board of Elections concerning these allegations.

“In comparing the travel expense reports filed with the city of DeKalb by Mr. Sparrow with the campaign disclosure statements filed by Mr. Sparrow with the DeKalb County Clerk, one conclusion becomes painfully evident,” Pennington said. “The city of DeKalb and Citizens for Sparrow claim to be paying for the same extensive travel.”

Pennington’s prepared statement contained 18 separate complaints. He read three examples which included a trip to the Illinois Municipal League Annual Conference in Chicago in October 1992 and two U.S. Conference of Mayors meetings, one in New Jersey in September 1992 and another in Texas in June 1992.

In a press release, Pennington detailed trips where the city and Sparrow’s campaign coffers provided money for the mayor’s trips. Pennington said the money, according to city and county documents, has been paid out for the same expenses. “He’s double-billing the city and the campaign,” Pennington said.

“State statutes say you can spend campaign money on anything you want to spend it on,” Pennington said. “But you must itemize what the money goes for.”

Pennington was once 2nd Ward Alderman Michael Welsh’s employee and a member of the Friends of DeKalb Committee’s petition drive to put Welsh on the mayoral ballot. Pennington said, however, there is no political motivation behind his actions. “I do support an opponent, but I am not running for re-election.”

Sparrow also faced criticism from a Welsh representative.

Welsh’s campaign manager Joe Wiegand asked Sparrow to work with the city of DeKalb and the State Board of Elections and show receipts for four questionable trips. “We realized there were four explicit trips last year where line item by line item, (including) hotel, food, lodging and travel, the city and campaign were paying for the same items,” he said. “Simply explain to us how the money was spent.”

Sparrow denied the allegations at the press conference. “In three different mayoral campaigns and one campaign for state representative, I’ve never had a problem with my D-2’s (disclosure statements) being filed,” he said. “My state representative campaign was against a member of the State Board of Elections. If there was anything to be told (about my D-2’s), it would have come out there.

“My records are clean,” Sparrow said. “I’ve complied with the state statute laws, the State Board of Elections and DeKalb ordinance.”

Sparrow said he believed the city shouldn’t have had to pay for the money billed to the campaign-funded expenses. “They are expenditures above and beyond what I should expend to the city,” he said.

Sparrow said private money can be used as he sees fit. “I used it to further benefit DeKalb,” Sparrow said.

Sparrow did detail the one trip to New Jersey in question. He said the money billed to the campaign paid for a fifth night in the state which saved the city money by allowing him to catch a less expensive morning flight.

“We have held fundraisers in between elections to supplement what expenses I incur in traveling,” Sparrow said. “Anytime I ever had a fundraiser, it’s been understood that this money will be used for travels above and beyond what should be billed to the city.”

Sparrow said the documents detailing his trips are itemized correctly. “According to state law, that’s all that is required.”

Sparrow also commented on Pennington’s criticism of his trips

t earlier city council meetings. “Before, Pennington said I was billing too much to the city,” Sparrow said. “Now, he says I’m not billing enough.”

A mayor cannot sit home and expect to find solutions to money shortages, he said. “You must go out and fight for (state and federal) dollars and bring them back,” he said. “That’s what a mayor does.”