ROCK ISLAND — Former Rock Island City Alderman Virgil Mayberry confronted city council members Monday night, accusing them of conspiring with the Dispatch-Argus in an effort to oust him from office.
Mayberry, who represented Ward 2, was defeated by write-in candidate Randall Hurt by 36 votes in the April 2 municipal election.
The Dispatch-Argus published a story over the weekend detailing numerous instances in which Mayberry used his city-issued credit card during his four years in office to pay for personal expenses, including $430 for a custom bulletproof vest, jewelry, dry cleaning, postage and gasoline.
"I'm here tonight concerning this article the newspaper wrote, which is totally incorrect," Mayberry said during the public comments portion of the meeting. "This whole article was about me. I didn't do anything wrong while I was here, but this says I did something wrong. I'm not going to sit back and let somebody railroad me and I've got a good idea why.
"There was an organized effort in this city to get rid of me," Mayberry said. "And that's fine, that's what Democracy is."
The Dispatch-Argus submitted a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request for the expense reports and receipts of seven aldermen going back to 2015, which included Mayberry. All expenses were approved by the city council and Mayberry was not accused of any wrongdoing.
Mayberry refused to comment for the story or explain any of the expenditures.
Mayberry defended his purchase of a bulletproof vest, which was bought a few weeks prior to an Illinois Municipal League conference held in Chicago in September 2016.
"I have represented this city in the murder capital of the United States — Chicago, East St. Louis, Rockford — and here, Rock Island isn't the safest city in the United States," Mayberry said. "Yeah, I bought that. It was approved and I did nothing wrong."
The Dispatch-Argus reported that Mayberry sent newsletters to residents in his ward and billed the city $1,882.51 in February 2016. He spent $708 at Stecker Graphics for the printing of high-gloss newsletters; $47.42 for mailing labels from the county clerk's office; and $1,127 at the post office to mail the newsletters.
"I'm the only one who ever published a newsletter for my constituents," Mayberry said Monday. "Like there's something wrong with that.
"The shirts that I got dry cleaned say, 'the city of Rock Island.' The custom jewelry — I made cuff links out of the logo and gave them to (former) Mayor (Dennis) Pauley and Mr. Eisenberry," Mayberry said. "These people want to go places in the United States and be proud. They wear French cuff shirts like I do. Was there something wrong with that? Evidently the newspaper thinks so."
Mayberry also defended using his city credit card to fill his gas tank numerous times, saying the 2nd Ward is too large to walk.
"For three years, I drove back and forth, several times a day, to my constituents to find out their problems," Mayberry said. "The last year, I charged for that gas. Why? I felt I should do that."
Rock Island City Clerk Judith Gilbert told the Dispatch-Argus that only city employees are allowed to charge gasoline.
Mayberry addressed Mayor Mike Thoms and accused him of donating to Hurt's campaign.
"You admit you gave money to my opponent," Mayberry said. "You said it wasn't your money. People gave it to you, you gave it to (Hurt). Some people think that's laundering.
"We've had great men sitting in that seat you're sitting in," Mayberry said to Thoms. "You, Doug House, Marshall Douglas, Dylan Parker and Joshua Schipp have done terrible things to this city in the name of getting rid of me. You sat in that seat and called Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., one of the greatest men in this country, a 'coon.' A 'coon' — you did that.
"From what I've been told, your motto is 'let's make Rock Island white again,'" Mayberry said. "Well I got news for you, this ain't going away."
Mayberry was met with stunned silence from council members and city staff.
Thoms addressed Mayberry's comments after the meeting.
"It's not true. I don't remember the setting, but I would not be calling anybody a 'coon'," Thoms said. "No, I've never been known to be racist nor do I plan to be. I don't know how to respond to that. Tonight's the first time I heard that."