Prussing's picks for traffic stop task force criticized
Mayor expected to add an Urbana woman to her list
URBANA — The city's special committee to study police traffic stop data got off to a rocky start this week, before its membership is even finalized.
Mayor Laurel Prussing is facing some criticism over her selections for that task force's membership. The community members who have been the driving force behind a push to get the city to study racial disparities in police stops said this week that they felt important applicants were left off that list.
The mayor's 10 appointments nonetheless got the support of a majority of city council members this week. The task force of four Urbana residents, five from Champaign and one from Sidney is charged with poring over data released annually by the Illinois Department of Transportation that, among other aspects, compares how often drivers of each race are pulled over by police.
Prussing said she is expecting to appoint one more Urbana woman to the task force to fill out the 11-member committee. The list of 10 approved this week includes some familiar names in city circles: Champaign County NAACP president Patricia Avery; Alderman Eric Jakobsson, D-Ward 2; Urbana police Sgt. Andy Charles; former Urbana Police Chief Mike Bily; Champaign Human Relations Commissioner Alejandra Coronel; and Champaign City Council member Will Kyles.
Unlike other city commissions, residency in Urbana was not a prerequisite for appointment to the task force. Prussing and other city officials have said IDOT's traffic stop data is a regional issue — "half the people getting a ticket aren't even from Urbana," she said on Tuesday.
Six of the 11 committee members will be of a minority race: four black people, one of Asian ethnicity and one of Hispanic descent. Prussing's goal was that the task force would "reflect all the different population groups that we have."
"Champaign's twice as big as Urbana," Prussing said. "I didn't do it based on the city per se. I did it based on what they would bring to the table."
City council members on Monday threw up some obstacles before they eventually approved Prussing's appointments in a close voice vote.
Alderwoman Carol Ammons, D-Ward 3, and some other city council members said they wanted to see a full list of applicants — including those who were turned down — before signing off on Prussing's selections.
"Because this has not happened, it makes it difficult for me to support the task force and its current recommendation," Ammons said.
One of the people left out of the appointments was Urbana resident Durl Kruse, who has been the most prominent voice from the community pushing city officials to take another look at the data that shows Urbana police are stopping black drivers at higher rates than whites.
The numbers behind that data are disputable themselves. That is one of the things the task force likely will study.
In addressing the Urbana City Council this week, Kruse did not mention his own lack of appointment, but said he wondered at the logic behind the mayor's selections. Speakers behind him, however, said they wondered why Kruse was left off the list.
"His passion is definitely there," said Alderman Bill Brown, D-Ward 4. "He's done more work than anyone in the community to bringing it to light."
On the other hand, Prussing said Kruse has been a forceful voice. When Urbana officials studied the data a few years ago, Prussing said Kruse insisted on being given extra time to speak at city meetings.
"He kind of demanded to have half an hour to talk," Prussing said. "He's just tried to control this whole thing."
City council members may only suggest that the mayor alter her recommendations for appointments to city jobs and commissions — they cannot change it themselves. Prussing came under fire for an unrelated list of appointments last year, when she excluded the city's accounting supervisor from her annual list of appointments to city jobs.
The accounting supervisor had been in that job for 24 years, and the dismissal is now the source of a wrongful termination lawsuit.
Saying that they had no power to force the mayor's hand, city council members reluctantly approved of that move.
Prussing said Tuesday she's not interested in altering the structure of city government to bow to the demands of a small group of people who have "been agitating for quite a while."
"I got input from council members" on the task force appointments, Prussing said. "They made recommendations, but we have checks and balances in government. My responsibility is to make appointments, and their responsibility is to accept or reject those."