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."