Belleville City Council Ward 4 candidate Alex McHugh survived a challenge to his candidacy in January when the city’s Election Board ruled he could stay on the ballot, but opponents to his campaign have continued to raise questions over whether he was a Ward 4 resident for the required one year before the April 7 election, and other matters.
McHugh said in an interview he has considered Belleville his home since March 2013. And on Jan. 5, he told the Election Board that the home at “10503 West Main has been the only residence legal or otherwise that I have maintained since March of 2013.”
Since then, questions have been raised over a felony forgery charge filed against McHugh and then dismissed, along with lawsuits filed against him in Nebraska.
McHugh declined to comment on the details of these court cases. But he said he welcomes anyone to check his background on the forgery charge that later was dismissed after he successfully completed a court-ordered program in Nebraska. He said the lawsuits involving his personal finances were the result of the recession damaging his business and a divorce.
He said he’s upset with the personal attacks he’s witnessed in Belleville politics.
“That’s just not who we are,” he said.
McHugh told the Election Board he did return to Omaha, Neb., for a business consultant’s position and that he lived with friends for a while, but considered his family’s longtime residence on West Main as his home.
He also told the board that he received a settlement check at the Main Street address from the Federal Trade Commission more than a year before next week’s election.
The Election Board, which was comprised of Mayor Mark Eckert, City Clerk Dallas Cook and Councilman Paul Seibert, denied challenges that McHugh didn’t meet the residency requirement.
McHugh did not get his Illinois driver’s license until Sept. 4, after he began working on his mother’s probate case. Mary McHugh, a well-known educator in Belleville, died on July 18.
State law requires you to get a driver’s license 90 days after moving to Illinois if you have a valid out-of-state license, according to Illinois Secretary of State spokesman Dave Druker.
McHugh said that he was occupied with caring for his ailing mother and that’s why he didn’t get a license until after she died.
Rick Brown, a Shiloh resident who owns rental property in Belleville and has been critical of Belleville city officials for years, gave City Council members an affidavit on March 16 listing the reasons why he doesn’t think McHugh should be on the ballot. One of the reasons included the fact that McHugh didn’t get his driver’s license until Sept. 4. This date was noted during the Election Board hearing but was not accepted as evidence.
Obituary notices for Mary McHugh listed Alex McHugh’s residence as Omaha, Neb. This information was considered hearsay and was not accepted into evidence by the Election Board. McHugh said he didn’t write the obituary and believes his hometown was listed as Omaha because a lot of people knew he had previously lived there.
Probate court records filed on Nov. 6 state that “as a result of the needs of the estate,” McHugh “has tendered his termination to the employment” he had in another state and “taken up residence” at 10503 W. Main St. in Belleville. McHugh said this employment refers to a consultant’s position he ended in March 2014.
Information about the obituary notice and the probate court records were included in Brown’s affidavit.
After reviewing the affidavit submitted by Brown, Alderman Joe Hayden said, “It seems very clear to me that appropriate residency ... one year before the election was not established.’’
Brown added, “I don’t believe he has been here a year.’’
During the public speaking section of the City Council meeting on March 2, Brown criticized McHugh’s candidacy. On March 16, the day he gave the council his affidavit, he started to speak again about McHugh but he was cut off by Eckert.
McHugh said he believes there was “bad blood” between his mother and Brown because she had criticized Brown during a debate about the city’s crime-free ordinance. Brown denied this and said he and Mary McHugh got along fine. He said they disagreed on some issues but agreed with each other on a lot of others.
Raffi Ovian, who also is running for the Ward 4 alderman seat in Belleville, filed an objection to McHugh’s candidacy and this objection was one of two heard by the Election Board on Jan. 5. Ovian unsuccessfully asked the board to remove McHugh’s name from the ballot for not meeting the one-year residency requirement.
Ovian declined to comment further for this article.
According to Douglas County, Neb., court records, McHugh was charged with second-degree forgery, a Class 3 felony in Nebraska, on July 29, 2011, but that charge was dismissed in December of that year because McHugh completed the Douglas County Attorney’s Diversion Program.
Court staff said the diversion programs are typically offered to eligible first-time offenders accused of a non-violent crime.
Court papers alleged that McHugh forged his former business partner’s signature on a check paid to himself totaling $4,719.44. McHugh had been a 1 percent owner of Stereo West Auto Toys in Omaha, but his check-writing privileges were taken from him in 2007 and he was fired from the company in May 2010, according to court records.
The company’s majority owner, Craig Kelley, called police when his bank informed him his business checking account was overdrawn. When police questioned McHugh, he told officers he’d received the check in the mail in June 2010 and thought it was a payment of vacation time he was owed prior to his termination. “Vacay, Ciao” was printed in the memo line of the check but police said the signature did not match other examples Kelley had provided officers.
Kelley declined to comment about the forgery case.
When he lived in Omaha, McHugh faced at least three lawsuits filed regarding personal finances.
First Horizon Home Loan Corp. filed a lawsuit in Douglas County, Neb., against McHugh, alleging he received a home equity loan in 2006 and the last payment was made on Dec. 1, 2009. An order issued in June 2011 called for McHugh to pay $49,633 to First Horizon. Court records do not indicate whether this order had been satisfied.
A representative from First Horizon could not be reached for comment.
Capital One Bank filed a lawsuit in Douglas County against McHugh in 2008, alleging he owed $1,375 on a credit card account. An order issued on Jan. 27, 2014, said McHugh still owed Capital One $2,912. Court records do not indicate whether this order had been satisfied. The order listed McHugh’s address as 16518 Dorcas St. in Omaha.
The attorney for Capital One could not be reached for comment.
Nebraska Furniture Mart filed a lawsuit in Douglas County against McHugh in 2009, alleging he owed $2,002 on a credit card account. Court records do not indicate whether this order had been satisfied.
The law firm representing Nebraska Furniture Mart declined to comment.
After examining the public records involving McHugh, Brown said, “I don’t want his finger on the (city’s) checkbook.”
Brown is critical of McHugh because there are “so many things that don’t add up.”
But McHugh said he has been active in the local community for the past five years, including attending City Council meetings and participating in Racial Harmony events.
He said he was part of the Belleville delegation that traveled to Kansas City, Mo., in 2011 when Belleville was designated an All-America City. He said there are “so many good things going on in Belleville.”
“I’m only trying to continue my mom’s work.”