Laurel Prussing is seeking re-election as Urbana mayor. She is challenged by Rex Bradfield, who also ran against her in 2009. The two answered questions posed by The News-Gazette leading up to the April 9 election.
What do you see as the three most important issues affecting Urbana residents during the next four years, and how would you work to address those issues?
Finances: Urbana navigated the worst recession since the 1930's. Now the state of Illinois proposes taking city revenue. I will work with legislators, the governor and other cities to cut unfair state-imposed expenses in exchange.
Public safety: Urbana continually builds on successful efforts to prevent crime and preserve neighborhoods. Next, an improved early-warning system to flag properties exhibiting multiple problems with building codes, fire safety and police.
Social justice: Urbana has long championed fair treatment for all people. We will continue to bring decent jobs and housing, especially for families with children. We respect people of all ages and abilities.
Job Development for both degree and trade/service applicants. Menard's, Lincoln Square office businesses, Research Park development.
Infrastructure repair and maintenance.
Beneficial spending of TIF/development money and new infrastructure.
Location of road diet/bike path routes for effective public convenience and both sustaining existing and encouraging new business development.
This year's election is a rematch of the 2009 election. How has the city changed in the past four years, and how has that affected your goals?
We met the recession's challenges by careful budgeting. I set a goal of keeping our employees and worked with the city council and staff to identify where to cut costs. We implemented a salary freeze and took longer to replace employees. My chief of staff researched new revenue sources. We drew down our modest reserves.
What changed? The growing national poverty level exists here as well. I am working with the university, Champaign and private entities to provide early childhood education to all at-risk children and work experience for young people, two new goals the Urbana city council strongly supports.
Four years of wasted time. Issues are nearly the same or worse and no accomplishments.
Loss of significant amounts of development money, TIF money, wasted studies and wasted implication of unnecessary traffic features.
Four years ago, I said beautifying Philo Road and the road diet would create problems. I have been proven correct.
Four years ago, I said that Urbana did NOT have a surplus of revenues, four months later the comptroller said tax revenues were not adequate and proposed a budget that only had a $500,000 surplus into the reserve fund. Three months later, it was no surplus and cutting services. Misleading information to be elected.
Since 2007, the city has not had a chief administrative officer to work under the mayor, and that has been a key issue in both the 2013 and 2009 campaigns. Please explain the stance you have taken and why.
Key issue? Apparently not for voters. (Two opponents ran on it and failed.) The city works better and at lower cost since I streamlined administration — $600,000 in salary and benefits saved so far. I hire excellent people and will not put up with dishonesty or bullying.
In 2007, with the full support of the Urbana City Council, I put the then Administrator on administrative leave and did not re-appoint him. While the city searched for a replacement, I did both jobs for 2 1/2 years. In 2009, the City Council approved my proposal to hire a chief of staff instead.
The failure of the city of fill that position has dramatically hurt Urbana's development opportunities and ability to cause investors to invest in Urbana and create the very necessary job creating larger investments. Every major development in Champaign County has taken place outside Urbana.
The present system of a combination mayor/CAO and nondescript (by ordinance) chief of staff is not manned by individuals who have the necessary experience to ensue confidence to investors that their investments will not be affected by ill conceived city policies concerning financing, traffic patterns, crime protection, etc.
If you were elected, what would be the first project you tackle?
This spring, the first issue is dealing with the state's efforts to siphon off funding for local governments. The state is in a financial bind after decades of postponing honest budgeting. Local governments deal with reality every year.
The state needs help to get on the path to financial stability. However, it should not be done on the backs of those local governments which have been responsible and honest stewards of taxpayer money.
A compromise may be possible: Eliminate some unreasonable requirements imposed on cities so the net effect of a state-imposed reduction in city revenue would be positive.
Menard's, Lincoln Square, Windsor Road repairs, with the former and the latter having the top priorities.
What makes you the better candidate for this office?
Most Urbana voters trust me and like the job I am doing. In tackling tough problems, I've earned a reputation for honesty and fairness. My background in economics and public finance prepared me for careful stewardship of public funds. My experience as a county board member, Champaign County auditor, and state representative, and my participation in professional organizations have given me the tools to work with a broad range of people for the common good. Because of this, I have worked effectively with the Urbana City Council, city staff and the public to keep Urbana an innovative and forward-moving community.
There is no better example of my leadership skills than the recent Ellis Subdivision sanitary sewer issue. I created a possible solution that was accepted by four of the six council members present, created a bond in the neighborhood that gave the citizens hope that the solution would prevail and faith in their ability to be fairly represented at the city meetings. I gave them hope. I analyzed the problem and realized the solution was within the existing codes and could be applied with little increase or most probably reduction in costs to everyone in the city. I am the ONLY candidate with licensed professional skills in solving any kind of problem, be it technical, personal, planning, new or a combination thereof.
What, if anything, would you change about how the city runs during the next term?
Urbana's government is not static, it is always changing in response to the needs of the public and the requirements imposed by the state and federal governments. Urbana has often been an innovator and ideas developed here have been adopted as state law. Urbana is actively involved in working with other governments in Champaign County on a variety of issues.
Cities around the world have taken the lead on tackling global climate change. Urbana is a leader in Illinois.
Urbana's government is highly responsive to citizen concerns. We have the structure and ability to constantly seek and develop best practices.
Immediately address the proper order to complete the city's plan of sustainability and environmentally-friendly infrastructure in a manner that does not interfere with the rights of the general public property ownership and the rights of a business to compete in a fair and honest atmosphere unhindered by government interference.
Make sure that government policies actually create and sustain the intent of those policies, rather than just satisfy some guidelines for state and national awards (bicycles, for example).
Control spending in a manner that government investment spending actually parlays public money into greater public benefit and a larger public tax base. Consider that taxes can only be increased from present levels by a public referendum. Consider that spending on major projects can only be approved by a public referendum.