Urbana mayor Prussing's challenger levels new criticisms

Urbana mayor Prussing's challenger levels new criticisms

URBANA — With less than seven weeks remaining before a primary election, a Democratic challenger for mayor says an open-records request has deepened his disapproval of the city's handling of the Landmark Hotel deal.

It is a talking point that Les Stratton has repeated since he launched his campaign last fall, and he says he is preparing to press Urbana Mayor Laurel Prussing harder during the weeks leading up to a Feb. 26 Democratic primary election.

On Wednesday, the attacks grew even more pointed, and Stratton hinted at more campaign talking points in the weeks ahead.

"The ability for the city to recoup its $1.45 million is in doubt," Stratton said on Wednesday of the city's agreement with the owner of the Landmark Hotel.

That is the amount of money city officials plan to give to the owner, Xiao Jin Yuan, as reimbursement for some of the project costs by the time the work is done. Stratton said the documents he received after a Freedom of Information request show that Prussing and city officials fumbled the deal and were too lenient with Yuan.

The hotel — formerly the Lincoln Hotel and, before that, Jumer's Castle Lodge — partially opened in November, but Stratton said a partial opening is not good enough. He is worried the city will end up spending more money than it originally planned on the 89-year-old building.

"The Prussing administration has mismanaged this project from the beginning," Stratton said.

Stratton has attacked Prussing on the project before, and the incumbent mayor has responded by saying the owner encountered unanticipated renovation issues but has set the business up for success.

On Wednesday, her comments grew sharper as she defended the project.

"This is a guy who comes swooping in and wants to be the mayor, and he has taken no role at all in forming these projects," Prussing said. "Everything we do is open to public participation."

All along, city administrators have said, Yuan is in full compliance with the reimbursement deal, and Prussing said that Stratton should stop "brow-beating" the hotel owner.

"We have a contract; we made adjustments to the contract as we needed to," Prussing said. "Any big projects, you're going to see adjustments to it."

The original deal set a November 2011 deadline for the hotel's opening. Miss the deadline, city officials said, and Yuan would be considered in default of an initial $650,000 loan from the city and he would have to repay that money.

When it became clear the hotel would not open before that date, city officials revised the agreement to give Yuan until Dec. 31, 2012, to open. They also changed the timetable for $800,000 worth of reimbursements, making an extra $400,000 available to Yuan on the spot.

City officials defended the adjustments as necessary following unanticipated complications with the renovations.

Former Urbana Mayor Tod Satterthwaite, who has been present at Stratton's campaign events, called city officials' explanation of the adjustments a "rambling narrative," and said there is nothing material to support their leniency with Yuan.

Satterthwaite has drawn some of Prussing's criticism, too. "Tod seems to be doing most of the talking," Prussing said on Wednesday.

"I get the impression that I'm running against Tod," Prussing said.

Satterthwaite said that he has no official role with Stratton's campaign and that he is "just helping out."

Both Stratton and Satterthwaite have said that at the heart of the Landmark Hotel issue is Prussing's refusal to hire a chief administrative officer. He said city code requires a top administrator to work alongside Prussing, and that she has commandeered city government.

Prussing said she spent a year and a half trying to replace the last chief administrator, who was not invited to return after being placed on administrative leave in 2007 following what she called "unprofessional behavior."

Instead, Prussing hired a chief of staff in 2009.

"I think (Chief of Staff) Mike Monson has done a great job, and I think the council agrees," Prussing said. "We are spending less money on administration, and we are getting better results."

Stratton on Wednesday said he's got "some more press conferences" lined up before the Feb. 26 primary election.

He said he expects to speak on the $7.9 million Boneyard Creek beautification project under way in downtown Urbana "and its validity to where we are right now."

He may also make an issue of the Olympian Drive road project in north Urbana, and he said he believes "funding for the project could be put off for a number of years without us getting too involved."

Prussing on Wednesday said his comments are coming too late.

"He showed no interest in the Boneyard Creek; he showed no interest in Olympian Drive," Prussing said. "And now he's the expert."

Voters will choose Prussing or Stratton as the Democratic candidate for mayor during the Feb. 26 primary election. The winner's name will go on the ballot for the April 9 election, when voters will select between the Democratic candidate and Republican Rex Bradfield.

Sections (2):News, Local
Tags (1):Election 2013

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rsp wrote on January 10, 2013 at 12:01 pm

I always like people who take up issues as campaign tactics but never show up before that. All I've ever heard about him is what he doesn't like about Urbana, nothing about what he envisions for the city himself. Take away Olympian Dr., the Boneyard, and the Hotel and he doesn't have a campaign left. 

Sid Saltfork wrote on January 10, 2013 at 12:01 pm

What is his opinion on statues, and round abouts?

rsp wrote on January 10, 2013 at 2:01 pm

He probably doesn't have one yet. If the city puts one in then he'll have an opinion.

cretis16 wrote on January 10, 2013 at 3:01 pm

I'll give him this...he's right on the money on this Hotel fiasco.Why do we have to keep giving rope and money to an out of state developer to make this hotel open? The total amount of money wasted on this project is embarrasing, with extension and look the other way agreements the norm of the day. That's almost 8 mil for the boneyard....wow, are we that wealthy?

Local Yocal wrote on January 10, 2013 at 4:01 pm
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Satterthwaite said that he has no official role with Stratton's campaign and that he is "just helping out."

Hilarious. Stratton makes no secret he wants to bring back the "good 'ol boy" system of a city manager and guess who wants the job? I would hope Stratton would be so upfront and transparent at his future press conferences to announce who he would appoint as Urbana's next city manager if elected. If you can't get elected, (lost his last race against Prussing, lost his last race for county board member,) "help out" with a campaign so you can be appointed city manager?

Prussing is right: she is running against the ugly Tod monster once again.

As for Stratton, he's in way over his head, a mere tool at best. His idea of "progress" is to provide more tax breaks for national corporations. No friend of the mom and pop's businesses is he. To seek public service running against somebody is little vision for something. His only vision for Urbana is: we won't have Prussing around anymore and Tod will finally taste revenge for his bitter defeat in 2005.

spangwurfelt wrote on January 10, 2013 at 8:01 pm

All Mayor Prussing has to do is say, "I'm not the one Todd Satterthwaite likes," and she's guaranteed a landslide win.

ZFox83 wrote on January 13, 2013 at 8:01 pm

In response to both the mayor and the earlier comments on this article....

I have had the opportunity to meet with Les Stratton and discuss these issues.  He is an intelligent well-spoken individual whose ideas for the city are not murky or unclear.  He has decades of experience working for the city, so for the mayor to say he "hasn't been involved" is a cop out.  He's witnessed the mismanagement of several of these projects first hand while serving the city in Public Works.  Sure, he hasn't run for public office before.  But that does not invalidate his points in any way.  I invite you all to visit Les' website and contact him yourself if you doubt his character or his vision for the city.  He struck me as a genuine and open man who I'm sure would be happy to discuss his beliefs personally with you to gain your vote in February. 

To the commentor who said that wishing to reinstate a city manager was a return to the "good 'ol boy" system, I strongly disagree.  You know, many many cities across the country are run on a city manager system of government.  Allowing an official who has the proper training to handle matters of management for the city outside of the pressures of political office is smart, and secures the city in a small way from being used as a pawn in an everchanging political climate.  Mayor Prussing has governed on a system of intimidation to city employees and stakeholders, and she asserted that position early on by firing the former city manager as a show to others that she was the boss now.  Champaign has long been governed with a city manager system and many of you may have recently seen the articles that Champaign has been operating with surpluses for the last two years now. 

Citizens of Urbana, do yourselves a favor.  Learn more about Les Stratton before the primary and cast your votes on Feb 26.  The anti-business friendly practices of our current mayor have squandered city budget money and kept our property taxes high for far too long.