CHAMPAIGN – Tracy Parsons resigned today after 13 years as head of the Champaign County Urban League, saying "the time is right."
"I've been doing this for 13 years," Parsons said this morning. "We've done a lot of good stuff, helped a lot of people. And in some ways I think I changed the climate in this community a little bit. We're going to give somebody else the reins to handle this challenge."
The Urban League board said this morning it will conduct a national search for Parsons' replacement and appoint an interim leader shortly.
Parsons, an Urbana native, was named president and chief executive officer in August 1994. He led the league through rapid growth, taking it from a $1 million agency with five programs to one with a budget of more than $5 million, 25 programs and 60 employees.
But the last year has been a troubled one, with the agency losing two state grants worth $3 million annually . State officials questioned the Urban League's fiscal oversight and demanded it repay hundreds of thousands of dollars spent on the energy-assistance and weatherization programs.
The Urban League admitted mistakes, fired some employees, slashed its budget, hired a new financial director and instituted new controls, but insisted there was no malfeasance. Board members expressed full faith in Parsons' leadership, with board President Sandra Jones saying Parsons' integrity was "never in question."
The Urban League says the state still owes it $375,000 for expenses incurred with the two programs and argues it was unfairly treated after managing the two programs for 25 years.
Parsons said this morning he was not pressured to leave.
"We've weathered this storm for the last year, and so the timing is right," he said. "This is my decision. This a very stressful, high-pressure job with a tremendous amount of responsibility."
He said he's accomplished the two goals he set when he took the job in 1994: to improve the Urban League's capacity to better meet the needs of the poor and to grow professionally while working in a social services environment.
The Urban League under Parsons' leadership has "become a well-respected League and a model for the national Urban League movement," attracting national funding for technology training and other initiatives, Jones said in a statement. The board is proud of its accomplishments during Parsons' tenure, she said, citing programs on work-force development, housing, transportation and technology.
In addition to daily management of the Urban League, Parsons was instrumental in advocacy work on police-community relations, school equity, the digital divide, civic engagement and affordable housing, among other issues, Jones said.
"Tracy served on almost every conceivable committee and task force where a minority perspective demanded a presence and a seasoned voice," Jones said.
Parsons will continue to serve in a consulting role during the agency's transition to new leadership, officials said.
Parsons isn't sure what he will do next but hopes to stay in Champaign-Urbana.
"This is my home. My kids are in high school here," he said.
"I love this community. I love trying to make a difference for the poor in this community. It's very rewarding when I see people that we've helped. I go by a home and see someone planting flowers at their home and I know we've helped them get that home."