Urbana aldermen seek info on legal fees

URBANA — Two Urbana aldermen are asking administrators to be more forthcoming with them on the city's legal strategies, and they're hoping for more transparency in the future.

Council members Diane Marlin, D-Ward 7, and Eric Jakobsson, D-Ward 2, said during their meeting Tuesday that they are concerned with how the city is moving forward with litigation involving former accounting supervisor Liz Walden, who has sued the city for her job with full backpay and benefits.

Mayor Laurel Prussing chose not to reappoint Walden to her position last summer. The city this month filed a counterclaim to Walden's lawsuit, saying she and a former comptroller accepted payments for $32,000 in misappropriated compensatory time when they left the city's employment.

Jakobsson said he is worried about the legal expenses — which have grown to more than $100,000 — and he wants to hear all the options on how to move forward.

"I have an opinion on whether the money has been spent in a reasonable fashion ... But my opinion is not fixed because I have not yet had access to sufficient information on which to form an opinion," Jakobsson said. "Because, frankly, the city council has been kept out of the loop and in the dark."

Prussing said a closed session meeting to update council members on the case is scheduled for next week. But Marlin said she felt that update — two weeks after the counterclaim was filed — is coming too late.

"It's clear now to me that the administration wanted to wait until after the response and countersuit were filed to discuss the case," Marlin said.

Marlin and Jakobsson were the most vocal last summer when Walden was not reappointed. Walden was among about 30 "at-will" workers whom the mayor must reappoint annually to keep their jobs.

The two council members at the time said they wanted to review that process but were withholding any action while the litigation is pending. They repeated their concerns Tuesday night, especially as that annual list is due by the end of June.

"The city council can take steps now to make this process more transparent than last year," Marlin said.

Marlin said she'd like to whittle the list of at-will employees from its current 28 to 10. She also wants Prussing to inform the council in writing of any changes.

She said she hopes officials can complete a workplace climate survey at city hall to see how to create "a more positive and predictable workplace."

Prussing reminded the council that the city is the defendant in the lawsuit.

"The city of Urbana was sued, and we have an obligation to defend the city, and I think we have a difference of opinion," Prussing said. "I believe that I am acting in the best interests of the citizens of Urbana. When somebody asks the city to pay a large sum of money, we have to have a defense."

She added that the council has been updated in a prior closed session meeting and will hear about it again soon.

"You were informed at our last closed session, and we will have one next week," Prussing said. "So I hope we can get all this resolved so we'll all be on the same page."

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GeneralLeePeeved wrote on May 28, 2014 at 10:05 am

"Because, frankly, the city council has been kept out of the loop and in the dark."

 OK, if true, this statement would seem to imply one of two things....either the city council has been rubber-stamping all of the bills for legal expenses without examining them...or...the mayor has been spending money without the council's knowledge and/or approval (if approval is required).  Neither scenario is very flattering.

787 wrote on May 28, 2014 at 1:05 pm

Credit due to the two aldermen to have the nerve to ask... but the Queen is only going to tell them what she feels they need to know.  #maleficent?

sgtmikey73 wrote on May 28, 2014 at 1:05 pm

"The city of Urbana was sued, and we have an obligation to defend the city, and I think we have a difference of opinion,"   A More accurate statement might be "In my zeal for punishing those whom I perceive to be my enemies, I got the city sued."

rsp wrote on May 28, 2014 at 2:05 pm

There is more than one way to defend one's self in a law suit. One is not to get sued in the first place.

youlikeroses wrote on May 28, 2014 at 4:05 pm

In this case, it's clearly Carle's fault...

EdRyan wrote on May 28, 2014 at 4:05 pm

You may rest assured that in any event the taxpayers will get nailed.

highspeed wrote on May 28, 2014 at 4:05 pm

All vouchers have to be approved by roll call vote. If the council claims they didnt know, they have not even looked or administration falsified what the voucher was for.