Urbana comptroller announces immediate retirement after accounting supervisor loses job

Urbana comptroller announces immediate retirement after accounting supervisor loses job

URBANA – After watching one of his co-workers lose her job, the city's acting comptroller announced his immediate retirement during Monday night's city council meeting, citing a “toxic environment” and what he called bullying.

His announcement came after the city council confirmed Mayor Laurel Prussing's decision to not reappoint the city's accounting supervisor to her post as of July 1. That puts the city's finance department down two employees.

“If I quietly stood by and acted water cooler brave, it would show that I condone this behavior and I do not,” said Comptroller Bill DeJarnette.

DeJarnette did not refer to the termination of his department's accounting supervisor in a statement he read to the city council, but he made it very clear in his surprise announcement that he did not agree with how city staff have been treated.

“A fortune is being spent nationwide on dealing with bullying,” DeJarnette said. “One doesn't have to look far to find it in the workplace.”

About 30 city employees who hold their jobs by virtue of mayoral appointment must be reappointed annually in order to stay in those positions. That list was before the city council for approval on Monday night.

This year, the only exclusion on the list was Accounting Supervisor Liz Walden, who will now be out of a job as of July 1. Walden, who is married to former Chief Administrative Officer Bruce Walden, said she has been given no reason for what effectively is her termination after 24 years with the city of Urbana.

Prussing said she has not reappointed four people in her eight years as mayor. One of those four people was Bruce Walden, whom Prussing did not allow to return as the city's chief administrative officer in 2007. The position was never filled, though the mayor did hire a chief of staff in 2009.

Prussing cited personnel issues when she did not invite Bruce Walden to return, as she is now doing with Liz Walden. Prussing's decision to end Bruce Walden's job became a political issue in the years to follow, though she said Liz Walden's termination is a different situation.

“The news of this decision came as a shock to me, and has made me physically ill for a week now,” Liz Walden told the city council on Monday night.

She read from her most recent work appraisal, which was completed on Jan. 24 by her supervisor, then-Comptroller Ron Eldridge, who has since retired. Walden met or exceeded all the evaluation points in the review.

“I do my job well, and I can prove it,” Walden said.

Before the item was called for a vote, Alderman Eric Jakobsson, D-Ward 2, announced he would ask that Walden be allowed to keep her job, that she be informed in writing of the “personnel issues” that prompted her termination and that she be allowed to work with her supervisor to address those issues.

He said he would request that “in full knowledge” that appointed city employees serve at the pleasure of the mayor and that she may choose not to reappoint them at her will.

“However, because an individual has the right to do something does not make that the right thing to do,” Jakobsson said.

When the item was called for a vote, Alderwoman Diane Marlin, D-Ward 7, asked Prussing for an explanation. Prussing responded by saying it was not appropriate to discuss personnel issues in public and that she had planned on scheduling a closed session meeting to discuss the matter on July 8.

“I think it's out of order and if you want to have an executive session, I'm happy to have one,” Prussing said.

Council members called for a closed session right then and there. When they returned, they made no additional comment and approved of the annual staff appointment list, which excluded Walden.

Later in the meeting, when DeJarnette was scheduled to speak on the new city budget set to take effect July 1, he made his surprise announcement.

“If by my standing up and taking the professional and financial consequences of my beliefs it might foster change in this toxic environment, then it was worth it,” he said.

DeJarnette took the comptroller job after his predecessor, Eldridge, retired in January. He had previously been the city's information technologies head and retained those responsibilities until Monday night.

In the meantime, Prussing said the city likely will look for temporary help to cover the gaps in the finance department while officials look for a permanent solution.

“The city of Urbana is an outstanding city,” DeJarnette said. “But if our largest investment and greatest asset, our staff, is consistently rendered impotent through intimidation, a lack of an organizational structure that embraces strong group decisions that seeks consensus without fear of repercussion and lacks a strong moral ethic to provide protection from unfair and unjust practices, then the city will continue to stifle efficiency, hemorrhage quality staff and fail to hire the best and brightest.”

Prussing said she was not surprised by DeJarnette's immediate retirement.

“I had wind of it, so I figured that was going to happen,” Prussing said.

She said she is sorry to see him leave, but his comments were “off-base.” She thinks the work environment in city hall was worse before she was elected eight years ago.

“I think that's what I changed, but obviously in politics there are very different opinions, and I think most people understand the atmosphere here was vastly changed when I got to be mayor,” Prussing said. “And it was changed for the better.”

Jakobsson later called it a “very serious situation.”

“If we don't have reasonably transparent processes that are fair, we're not going to have a staff,” he said.

Sections (2):News, Local

Comments

News-Gazette.com embraces discussion of both community and world issues. We welcome you to contribute your ideas, opinions and comments, but we ask that you avoid personal attacks, vulgarity and hate speech. We reserve the right to remove any comment at our discretion, and we will block repeat offenders' accounts. To post comments, you must first be a registered user, and your username will appear with any comment you post. Happy posting.

Login or register to post comments

EdRyan wrote on June 18, 2013 at 5:06 am

And so the plot thickens.

WOW wrote on June 18, 2013 at 7:06 am

The N-G really blew a great headline, "There's No Accounting For Prussing".

ROB McCOLLEY wrote on June 18, 2013 at 8:06 am
Profile Picture

Hey Patrick, Prussing will give you a job if you keep writing about this for a while.  You'll double your salary, and all you have to do is quit talking about it.

 

Don't worry about qualifications. You've got a calculator, right?

 

Play your cards right.

Joe American wrote on June 18, 2013 at 8:06 am

A toxic environment?  Not surprising for Urbana at all.....just like the gathering of pharisees at the Library Board meeting last night.  Toxic indeed.

787 wrote on June 18, 2013 at 8:06 am

The problem is *never* the mayor... right?   It is always someone else, something else... but never the mayor.

youlikeroses wrote on June 18, 2013 at 9:06 am

This is just disgusting... 24 years. This mayor is out of control. What's next? We cannot wait for our house to sell to move to Champaign. I can't defend her to my friends and co-workers.

What one good thing has she done for us? Go ahead, I'll wait. We're constantly the brunt of all jokes in the county and Urbana is run like a circus.

Only 3 more years and 9 months til she wins again. That will be around the same time all of the work permits for Boneyard (dumb) and Birkeys (been on hold for over six months).

Orbiter wrote on June 18, 2013 at 9:06 am

To the victor go the spoils.  It's a political appointment, and Prussing won the election. This is what the citizens voted for.  

 

That said, those who've lost their jobs have my sympathies. Good luck to them.

thelowedown wrote on June 18, 2013 at 9:06 pm

Yeah, this mayor is out of control! How could she fire an employee that worked for Urbana for 24 years! 24! Including 8 under this very mayor! Wow, what a quick-trigger dictator! Oh, wait. Maybe Walden wasn't doing a good job anymore. Maybe positional responsibilites will be reshuffled. Maybe people should realize when positions are politically appointed, sometimes politics plays apart in the people who fill those positions!

EdRyan wrote on June 18, 2013 at 9:06 am

When is the next episode of "As Urbana Turns" coming out?

Cstraight wrote on June 19, 2013 at 2:06 pm

OMG Ed! This comment is hilarious! hehehee

My common sense is tingling. wrote on June 18, 2013 at 9:06 am
Profile Picture

Urbana is losing DeJarnette and Walden, but ten bucks says since it's stuck with Prussing, people like Debra Lissak over at UFL will stick around.

Keep the people that don't do their job, get rid of the ones that do.

 

 

Joe American wrote on June 18, 2013 at 9:06 am

Lissak did her job.  There was an error made and she remedied it.  When you're error-free, tell us all about how good it feels.

My common sense is tingling. wrote on June 18, 2013 at 9:06 am
Profile Picture

This thread shouldn't be about arguing over Lissak. That's my mistake for even mentioning her.

However, if you'd like me to demonstrate the numerous ways in which Lissak failed at doing her job and didn't remedy the error (that she created), head on over to Smile Politely and comment there. I'd be happy to reply in kind. 

And while I don't do my job error-free, it does feel pretty good not upsetting a large part of the community while simultaneously costing my employer hundreds, if not thosands of dollars.

Joe American wrote on June 18, 2013 at 11:06 am

That's my point:  don't get upset about something so insignficant. 

"....hundreds, if not thosands (sic) of dollars."  Really?  That's it?

johnny wrote on June 19, 2013 at 5:06 am

I didn't give you enough credit.  Some people still don't realize you're trolling.

My common sense is tingling. wrote on June 19, 2013 at 11:06 am
Profile Picture

It just hit me. Whoops.

 

Don't feed the trolls people....

johnny wrote on June 19, 2013 at 1:06 pm

I'll drink to that.

Joe American wrote on June 20, 2013 at 7:06 pm

Famous last words when losing an argument.  But good try, anyway.

sweet caroline wrote on June 18, 2013 at 10:06 am

I hope all of us who are outraged by this latest episode of "The Bold and the Brutal" actually turned out to vote in the last election.  I did, and I voted for Rex Bradfield.  Out of 28,528 Urbana registered voters, only 2,000 of us bothered to show up to the polls.  That means 26,528 Urbana citizens have no right to complain.  It's not just a saying:  Every vote really DOES count.

CU Friend wrote on June 18, 2013 at 10:06 am

Hmmm....I am curious to know more about the "toxic" environment he refers to! Wonder if Pat could do some off the record (don't cite source) interviews. I know it's risky for the employees. It's such a small town they'd have to meet up in Chicago to talk. Seriously.

I personally don't want to know more details about Liz Walden's. The reason (whether true or not) cited are personal. That is stuff that shouldn't be drug into the newspapers.

That being said did several staff people do an employee evaluation besides the Mayor? her decision alone?  Maybe the other employees who evaluated did not feel comfortable saying their true opinions. If it's a toxic environment then I can't *totally* fault them. If you're livelihood and monthly income is on the line...that's tough. It's a small city where the heck would they go find another job?

Yeah this is why toxic/bullying work environment cannot be tolerated. It's taxpayer money and taxpayer's deserve a well run local government. 

Pat seriously give some thought to off the record interviews. Investigate. You're really the only one who can and N-G articles have creditibility. (more or less. sorry that's true for any media source).

Ron wrote on June 18, 2013 at 11:06 am

Every government worker that quits, gets fired or doesn't get reappointed is a burden off the back of taxpayers. Perhaps they can finally get a real job and contribute to society.

ROB McCOLLEY wrote on June 18, 2013 at 12:06 pm
Profile Picture

So you prefer dirt roads?

Sid Saltfork wrote on June 18, 2013 at 3:06 pm

Point well made.  Ron's "real jobs" statement is indicative of the demonization of public employees.  What are "real jobs"?

thelowedown wrote on June 18, 2013 at 10:06 pm

Considering this person was an accountant, who the hell knows what a real job is if mathematics, arithmetic, and reasoning skills aren't invovled. I guess it's only manuel laborers. Maybe Ron wants to go back to the days of the Iron Age.

urbanite wrote on June 18, 2013 at 1:06 pm

I think the fact that there was no further objection from councilmembers after the closed-door session is VERY telling.  I worked at the City of Urbana, and worked with Bruce & Liz Walden, Ron Eldridge and Bill DeJarnette.  Getting rid of Bruce was the first step in cleaning up a old-boys-club, back-room-deals mess of a government.  Liz may have been good at the technical aspects of her job (and in my experience she was), but "personnel issues" could very well refer to her interaction with other employees and attitude in general.  Based on my experience, she was on the dishing out bullying side of the equation, although this was a number of years ago.  Ron is a wonderful, conscientious man, who was amazing at his job, a great example to others, and frankly, chose to see the good in people and not get mired in "office politics."  Bill is also a very kind man who walks the walk as well as talks the talk.  I'm not surprised that he stood up against what he perceived as an injustice.

I may not agree with everything that Mayor Prussing does, but I do believe she makes decisions based on the long-term benefit of Urbana.  How soon we forget the antics of hot-headed Tod Satterthwaite!

- One former-insider's opinion

 

ROB McCOLLEY wrote on June 18, 2013 at 3:06 pm
Profile Picture

Anonymity negates all credibility. Own your opinions, or they are worthless. Less than worthless perhaps. More like "suspicious."

Marti Wilkinson wrote on June 18, 2013 at 6:06 pm

Hi Rob: I use my name when posting because I don't see a real need for anonymity. That being said, I can see cases where people may have a combination of professional and personal reasons for remaining anonymous. For all I know the former Urbana employee may still be in a place where a backlash can occur from what is posted. So I do see a time and a place for anonymity.

That being said, I tend to sometimes prefer posting on other sites because people can't be anonymous, and the tone is often more civilized as a result. If someone want's to disagree with me, or take shots at my opinions, I don't give as much credence if I don't know who I'm talking to. Plus, I've decided to limit what posts I do choose to respond to, because anyone who can't fully own their posts is frankly not worth wasting any more bandwidth on.

ROB McCOLLEY wrote on June 18, 2013 at 8:06 pm
Profile Picture

Pseudonymous posting is fine. Most people do it.  Pseudonymous posting + "insider information" is dubious.  Pseudonymous posting + backstabbing/badmouthing Person A while (tacitly or directly) praising/supporting Person B leads experienced web comments section readers to believe that Pseudonymous Poster is, in fact, Person B.

Marti Wilkinson wrote on June 18, 2013 at 8:06 pm

Some of the aliases that people come up with can be a source of amusement. I wonder if the NG editors can see the IP addresses of posters, and tell if someone is using different identities to post.

spangwurfelt wrote on June 19, 2013 at 7:06 am

Thanks for demonstrating yet again why you're not a practicing lawyer.

ROB McCOLLEY wrote on June 19, 2013 at 9:06 am
Profile Picture

Objection. Relevance.

spangwurfelt wrote on June 19, 2013 at 7:06 am

"Anonymity negates all credibility."

Rob, it should come to no surprise to either yourself nor any reader here that your own personal opinion about what does or does not constitute credibility to you is your business but in no way binding on anyone else, no matter how puffed your prose.

volts10 wrote on June 18, 2013 at 8:06 pm

"I may not agree with everything that Mayor Prussing does, but I do believe she makes decisions based on the long-term benefit of Urbana.  How soon we forget the antics of hot-headed Tod Satterthwaite!"


Vote in a Republican and end all this.

jmb wrote on June 18, 2013 at 1:06 pm

Not good Laurel! I backed you up yesterday when this thing broke and expected last night would not go well, but you blew it when you took the low road when it would have been so easy and classy to do the opposite. When a long time city employee retired on the spot all you could think to say was "I caught wind of it and I am not surprised". What the heck does that mean. Have you been "bugging" your employees offices? Have you been hiding behind the door of the lunchroom eavesdropping on private conversations?  Or worse yet, have you hired a bunch of "yes" men and women who routinely report back to you on private conversations they have had with other employees not on your teachers pet list? You are starting to look like a petty tyrant here, whether its true or not.

This sitaution "begged" for you to exhibit some humility, so what do you do, you tell us how much better the city is now than it was before you became mayor. Just couldn't resist the urge to make this all about you, could ya?

Mr. DeJarnette called the situation "toxic" and quit his job on the spot. You wave it off as "no big deal". Something is rotten in Urbana and this voter will not forget when the next election comes around. You need to fix this mess ASAP and REPORT back to us, your constituents, on what the heck is going on down there. To do any less will likely result in us having a goofball like Bradford as mayor the next go round. 

 

urbanite wrote on June 18, 2013 at 2:06 pm

In my experience, you can't sneeze in the basement (of the City building) without someone on the second floor asking if you're getting a cold later that day.  There's no need for Prussing - or anyone else - to have spies; the grapevine is well-entrenched and very active.  

Marti Wilkinson wrote on June 18, 2013 at 9:06 pm

Office politics in any work place is unavoidable, but it can be effectively managed. One hallmark of a toxic work environment is when water cooler gossip takes the place of professional evaluations.

When I took a graduate course that addressed organizational communication, we read a case study on Enron. One of the policies that the company had was a 'rank and yank' system, where employees were allowed to rate each others performance. Every year the lowest ranking employees were fired. This helped create a workplace culture where ones job stability was vulnerable to both bullying and backstabbing.

So far I really enjoy being around the people I work with, and I feel very blessed in my current position.

ohnooo wrote on June 18, 2013 at 10:06 pm

waaaaa !!! you're in illinois what do you expect, same old set of politics just different player's.  Higher taxes, overpaid bureaucrat's, let put the burden on the people to save some cash.  Huh, maybe Urbana will find itself in the city of Dixon's shoes someday because of this ! 

wayward wrote on June 19, 2013 at 8:06 am

I'd like to see some more transparent policies where the city council has some oversight over hiring and firing city employees.  Problem employees could still be removed, but there'd have to be a series of steps that were documented and potentially reviewed by city council.  Someone getting fired after multiple warnings and other disciplinary measures makes sense, but it looks sketchy when an employee is dismissed as a problem after getting good performance reviews.

Sid Saltfork wrote on June 19, 2013 at 3:06 pm

Too bad that the mayor does not get annual performance reviews by the residents of Urbana rather than once every election.  The city should follow oral reprimands, written reprimands, and suspensions before terminating employees for "personal" reasons.  What is the purpose of the annual performance evaluations if the employee can be fired by the mayor in such an arbitrary manner?

If Prussing is re-elected after this term; the residents of Urbana have no one to blame, but themselves.  The current few that do vote must have rear view, tunnel vision.  Their city is crumbling around the expensive, grandiose projects.

sweet caroline wrote on June 19, 2013 at 7:06 pm

Can a mayor be impeached?

rsp wrote on June 19, 2013 at 4:06 pm

I don't understand the need for 30 staff to be under review every year. Maybe a couple people but not 30 and not every year. And to be fired without cause? After that many years?