Prussing's action invites response

Prussing's action invites response

Two Urbana aldermen don't want any more city at-will employees dismissed without good reason.

Following what appears to some the arbitrary and vindictive mayoral dismissal of a longtime Urbana city employee, Alderman Eric Jakobsson and Alderwoman Diane Marlin are trying to change the rules surrounding mayoral reappointments in a way that provides at-will employees some protection.

They are in the process of drafting an ordinance that establishes guidelines for informing "at-will" city employees of performance problems and allowing them an opportunity to correct deficiencies before they can be dismissed.

Jakobsson and Marlin should be commended for their efforts, and we would urge other members of the city council to work with them on this issue.

As for Urbana Mayor Laurel Prussing, it's hard to imagine that she'll be pleased with the proposed legislation since it's the direct result of her dismissal of accounting supervisor Liz Walden, a longtime finance department employee. Walden is the spouse of former Urbana chief administrative officer Bruce Walden, whom Prussing similarly dismissed from his city job eight years ago and with whom she has periodically feuded over the years.

It would be our hope that the combative Prussing will see the wisdom of this idea. But we wouldn't bet the house on it.

Walden was among roughly 30 city employees subject to annual reappointment by the mayor. But Prussing left Walden's name off a list of appointees, resulting in Walden's departure after 24 years with the city.

Walden appealed without success to the city council to intervene and save her job, citing solid employee evaluations as evidence of her worth as an employee. But council members were helpless because Prussing's reappointment authority is absolute.

The dispute resulted in the resignation in protest of comptroller Bill DeJarnette, who cited the Walden dismissal as evidence of a "toxic" work environment under Prussing's leadership.

Prussing has stated she has good reasons to usher Walden out of her city job, promising to share them with council members at a closed meeting to discuss personnel.

There is no doubt that Prussing has her reasons for taking the action she did. But there is substantial doubt that, given her employment evaluations, Walden is guilty of anything other than her marital status.

The News-Gazette has long been an admirer of Mayor Prussing. She's a smart, hard-working, strong-minded and effective leader. But her greatest strength is also her greatest weakness — a desire to take the fight to the opposition and an inability to know when enough is enough.

In this case, her action reveals an unappealing aspect of her character — a willingness to crush those she perceives as political opponents.

Prussing, of course, will not see it that way. She can be expected to argue vehemently that she took the correct approach and would do so again if necessary. But many people don't see it that way, and, because of that, they see the mayor in a new and unflattering light.

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