Meeting on Urbana neighborhood prompts political charges

URBANA — A Republican candidate for mayor is upset that he and an attorney were kept out of a meeting on Wednesday between city officials and residents of the Ellis subdivision, and both sides are making claims that the other is only interested in politics.

Republican Rex Bradfield said he planned to present to city engineers and public works officials what he saw as a solution to the residents' expensive sanitary sewer issues — and the residents were eager to have him do so — before receiving a call from Mayor Laurel Prussing's chief of staff on Tuesday.

During that phone call, Bradfield said, he was informed that he and attorney Bob Auler would not be allowed to attend.

Prussing, a Democrat, said on Wednesday that Bradfield is using the Ellis neighborhood issue for political gain as an April 9 election nears.

"We offered to meet with him and his attorney separately because they have a different agenda than the neighborhood," Prussing said.

Those residents have been lobbying city council members for relief on expensive sanitary sewer repairs. They are upset that they are required to pay for maintenance on their sanitary sewer laterals, even where those laterals are located on public property.

"I think they (the city) should fix the problem," said King James Underwood, who lives in the Ellis subdivision in northwest Urbana. "It's their responsibility. I think they should stand up and take responsibility for their work."

The situation is not unique to the Ellis neighborhood. City officials maintain a policy throughout the city that, regardless of where the pipes are located, property owners are responsible for maintenance on sanitary sewer laterals that connect their homes to the main line.

Bradfield, a self-employed land surveyor and licensed engineer who has been practicing for 40 years, said he believes he has found rules in the city code that forbid the city from passing the responsibility entirely to homeowners.

He had planned to explain to officials on Wednesday morning his belief that residents should be required to pay only for maintenance on their sanitary sewer laterals up to the property line. The city should use its own workers to fix those lines on public property, he said.

But Bradfield said he was "astonished" to learn on Tuesday evening that he would not be allowed to do that in a meeting with the residents and city officials.

"I've been doing this for 40 years, and I've never been to a meeting where they denied you doing stuff like this," Bradfield said.

An attorney, Auler, was also kept from that meeting, he said. Auler represented Bradfield and a Green Party candidate in the 2009 mayoral election when the candidates sued the city because Prussing was awarded the top ballot position without a lottery.

In the end, a lottery was held and Bradfield won top position.

Bradfield said another legal challenge may be imminent during the 2013 election, but this time it would not be about election code. Instead, he thinks city code is not being applied properly to sanitary sewer repairs.

"I think Bob Auler was considering some kind of legal action based on equal enforcement of the codes," Bradfield said.

Wednesday morning's meeting did convene — but Bradfield and Auler were not in attendance, and the meeting did not last very long.

Carol Ammons, who likely will replace Ward 3 Alderman Robert Lewis this spring, as Lewis is not seeking re-election, attended the meeting and said Bradfield was supposed to be the person who presented the technical details.

"Most of these are elderly people, retired people," Ammons said. "They don't know a lot about city sewers. It's very technical, and they didn't feel comfortable trying to present engineering and other documents to city staff."

Mike Monson, Prussing's chief of staff, said on Wednesday that Prussing wanted city officials to be able to meet with neighborhood residents "and not have a candidate for mayor dominate the meeting."

"We just didn't see the need for a candidate for mayor and an attorney to be in the meeting," Monson said.

City officials offered to meet with Bradfield and Auler on Wednesday afternoon instead of during the morning meeting. Bradfield said he declined the offer because it was against the wishes of neighborhood residents.

"We were offered that, but the neighborhood told us not to do it, and they were defiant," Bradfield said.

The Rev. Evelyn Underwood, who lives in the Ellis neighborhood, said residents will try to schedule another meeting off city property where officials would not be able to keep Bradfield and Auler from attending.

Wednesday's brief meeting also means there was no progress on how to deal with expensive sewer repairs in the Ellis neighborhood, but Prussing said she is working on some solutions.

Right now, the city shares 50 percent up to a maximum $3,000 of the "extraordinary" cost of fixing sewer laterals, like tearing up and replacing streets. Prussing said she might propose that the maximum be raised to $4,500 and possibly more assistance for low-income residents if that amount is not sufficient.

"Plus the staff is already working how to publicize the program," Prussing said. City officials believe that one of the key issues is that residents were not aware of the reimbursement program.

The Ellis neighborhood sanitary sewers have become a recurring city council topic as residents say maintenance has become too expensive and they have few options.

"I think we'll study these possibilities and take input from the public," Prussing said.

Voters will decide in a Feb. 26 primary whether Prussing or another candidate, Les Stratton, will be the Democratic nominee for mayor. The Feb. 26 winner will face Republican Bradfield in the April 9 election.

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rsp wrote on February 07, 2013 at 9:02 am

The residents have the right to have whomever they want represent them. I really don't think it's a good idea for the mayor to politicize the sewers. Part of being a good leader is a willingness to listen to all sides. 

cretis16 wrote on February 07, 2013 at 1:02 pm

We are in complete control...pay no atention to that man behind the curtain.This smacks of the old Soviet Union tactics....Please take off the purple robe and crown Prussing.

Joe American wrote on February 07, 2013 at 9:02 am

I can hear the thought process leading to that decision now:

"Let's keep a challenger to the mayor out of a public meeting so that the public doesn't know what real life competence looks like."

rsp wrote on February 07, 2013 at 10:02 am

"My mayordom for a sewerline?" "He's full of crap?" The lines just keep coming.  

prp wrote on February 07, 2013 at 10:02 am

After all, the only person who should be able to campaign at public meetings in Urbana, and on public property in Urbana should be the incumbent!

I am getting tired of the arrogance in City Hall.  Whether it is Stratton or Bradfield, I don't care as long as Prussing goes!

Rex Bradfield wrote on February 07, 2013 at 3:02 pm

See below response

GeneralLeePeeved wrote on February 07, 2013 at 2:02 pm

Where is Michael Fuerst when you need him......this situation is crying for an Urbana Bozo's letter!

Rex Bradfield wrote on February 07, 2013 at 3:02 pm

 

The usual modus operandi for meetings like this is the petitioner or group has their professionals (attorneys, architects, surveyors, engineers, etc.) present the factual information to the City.  Then the actual petitioners or group ends the presentation by acknowledging the content or adding or correcting factual information to their position.  Usually, the City then makes some comments and acknowledges that more factual meetings between the professionals is necessary to finalize the details.  Then a final meeting is conducted in which the solution is either accepted or denied.  THIS HAS NOTHING TO DO WITH POLITICS!!!  The denial of the first step, by Mayor Prussing, is not only illegal, but circumvents the entire process.  This is not about a Candidate speaking to a political forum, but an engineer licensed in the State of Illinois, representing a group of people who need engineering services, speaking to a government body  on their behalf.  Happens everyday in Illinois, but not in Urbana.

Au contraire to the Mayor's statement that the Neignborhoods agenda and my agenda were different, exactly the opposite is correct.  I was going to submit to the City exactly what the Neighborhood endorsed. The solution which the neighborhood endorses is a solution that only requires amending two separate Ordinances to conform to each other.  Both ordinances are correct and protect the people, but were not connected and amended to reflect that each is for a different location (in the street or along the back lot line) of the main sanitary line and it's service connections.  This solution is already a part of the two existing ordinances, will reduce costs to both the city and the property owner and allow the City to properly protect and maintain it's infrastructure assets.  The Costs to both will be reduced because the City will be working in City Right of Way and the Property Owners will be working on their property and neither will have to hold the other harmless and the costs associated therein.

It looks like the Mayor wants to ram the City's solution of paying more for repairs down the public throat and not even allow the above idea to be made public.

That is not only wrong, it is completely irresponsible and the actions of someone who is not acting in the best interest of the people of Urbana.

The solution is not to spend more money in a fund, but rather to just do what earlier City Fathers correctly determined to do.

prp wrote on February 07, 2013 at 4:02 pm

Thank you for this clarification.   Mayor Prussing's actions here are in line with how she works on every item.  Instead of bringing in all sides and coming to a common concensus, she rams her preferred solution down the public's throat.   Whether it is Olympian Drive, the hotel fincancing, the millions poured into the boneyard while our streets crumble, she is angered by dissent and does little to find concensus.   We need a new direction in this town.  Re-electing Prussing will just give us more of the same, unresponsive governance.

sweet caroline wrote on February 07, 2013 at 6:02 pm

Prussing is only hurting herself by denying Bradfield the chance to make his recommendations on the sewer issue.  She is the mayor, not the dictator.  The people have the right to hear all sides and various suggestions for resolving the problem.  I think she really messed up this time.

mjerryfuerst wrote on February 08, 2013 at 1:02 pm

I emailed a city council member about this issue.  Here is the relvant part of the response I received:

The design, layout and function of the sewer system in Dr. Ellis subdivision is the same as the rest of the city.  The city's policy regarding division of responsiblity for the sewer laterals is identical to most other communities.   Very few cities assume responsiblity for the lateral sewers or the water pipes to homes.   There were 3 individual backups in Dr. Ellis, as far as I can tell, from what has been said at council meetings.  The Underwoods have a rental property on Tremont and their lateral was clogged with tree roots, which they subsequently had unclogged by D&S.  I think part of their lateral went under the street, which is why they are protesting having to pay for it.  They called public works, were informed about the reimbursement program, and apparently declined to participate, stating that they believed the city (the public) should pay for the whole thing.   Public Works did assist D&S by televising the line, showing where the root clog was, etc.      (Urbana will provide reimbursement for repairs where city infrastructure has to be torn up, streets and sidewalks. ) Currently, it's for 50% of the expense, up to $3,000.  We're going to consider making that 75% and $4500 next week; there's  enough money in the fund for that.   There is also CDBG money, up to $5,000, for low-income households, for sewer later repairs. According to our engineers, if the city were to consider assuming responsibility for sewer laterals, there would be new infrastructure, staff, administration,  & equipment needs;  need for additional funding;  payment of prevailing wage, insurance, and bonding requirements for work done, which could exclude some current local contractors and steer business to others, and potential conflicts with homeowners who may disagree with city's decision as to course of action.     Here's a specific example:  existing city sewer and cleaning equipment is designed for public sanitary sewer pipes of 8-15 inches in diameter.  It's not capable of examining and cleaning 4-inch laterals to the homes.  We'd have to buy new equipment.  In short, there are many, many things to research and clarify if one is proposing a change in city policy with regard to infrastructure, plus you should state how much it will cost and how you plan to pay for it.    The one thing we do know is that there are no funds in the budget for this now, so if the public wants  to assume responsiblity for the laterals, then it means an  increase in taxes or fees.    At any rate, it's a BIG policy shift which has a lot of implications, and it's not something you toss around lightly.  That's just irresponsible. But, again, to answer your question.  Dr. Ellis is not having more problems than anywhere else, and the city-owned line is working fine.  The Dr. Ellis issues could have, and should have, stayed at the staff level for resolution.  The Underwoods didn't accept the  city policy or public works' answers, so they came to council and various political candidates have jumped into the fray.     It reached the point a couple of weeks ago where one of the Dr. Ellis residents disputed Public Works statement regarding the improvements made to the sewer collectors up there.  She said she didn't believe the work had been done because she hadn't seen the work crews actually do it!