URBANA — The next Champaign County treasurer will step into an office riddled with problems and a huge backlog of work, some county officials said Friday.
County bank accounts haven’t been reconciled past January 2019, even with the help of an outside auditor brought in last month to help the treasurer’s office catch up, and some county funds have been overdrawn, according to Jim Goss, the Republican chairman of the county board's finance committee.
Democratic Treasurer Laurel Prussing, who has resigned effective Jan. 31, is leaving behind “a wake of disaster,” Goss contended.
“It’s such a mess,” he said.
Prussing, who was elected in November 2018, is about a year into her four-year term.
It’s time to pass the job onto someone else, she said Friday.
“I haven’t had a vacation for a year, and I’m getting pretty tired,” she said.
Still up in the air as of Friday was who will appoint Prussing’s replacement — county board Chairman Giraldo Rosales or county Executive Darlene Kloeppel.
Prussing said Rosales will appoint her successor, but Kloeppel said she was researching who makes that appointment in a county with an elected executive.
“The rule says that the presiding officer of the county board will make that appointment, and right now, that is me,” she said.
Angela Patton, chief deputy in county Clerk Aaron Ammons’ office, said Prussing’s successor will be appointed by Rosales.
Once official notice is given, the county Democratic Central Committee will make a recommendation to the board chairman, the board chairman will make the appointment and the full county board will vote on it, she said.
Both parties will be eligible to slate a candidate to run in the Nov. 3 general election to fill out Prussing’s term, and those candidates would be slated after the March 17 primaries, Patton said.
According to Rosales, the county board will officially declare the county treasurer vacancy at its next committee-of-the-whole meeting Jan. 14, and that will start the process for finding a new treasurer.
“I am currently communicating with both county and party officials on how that process will occur. That position becomes vacant effective Feb. 1, 2020,” he said. “After the public announcement and notification to both political parties, I will have 60 days to finalize an appointment. This appointment will be made with the consent and approval of the Champaign County Board.”
A former county auditor, former state representative and former three-term mayor of Urbana, Prussing said she ran for the treasurer’s office because she thought there should be a Democrat in that race in a strong election year for Democrats.
“I didn’t want to do it for four years,” she said. “But we didn’t have anybody else to run. I thought I’d do it for a year.”
Kloeppel said she knew Prussing ran for office because she wanted a Democrat in the race for treasurer, but if Prussing was going to serve for just a year, she was unaware of that.
“I think she feels like she met her goal in that she wanted to get a Democrat in that spot, and she did,” Kloeppel said.
Goss said he believes Prussing is retiring because she’s unable to clean up the mess in her office.
“That’s a joke,” he said. “Why would you run for something and intend to serve for a year?”
As of Friday, the last fund balance report for the county posted on the treasurer’s website was for September 2019.
Kloeppel used some of the money in her own office’s budget to hire an outside accounting firm to help the county treasurer’s office get caught up on reconciling all 2019 monthly bank statements for the county. But Goss said the outside firm, CliftonLarsonAllen, was only able to get through bank accounts for December 2018 and January 2019 before the money ran out.
What happens now is yet to be determined, he said.
Kloeppel said there have been several issues in the treasurer’s office this past year.
Among them were a new county computer system, difficulties in the treasurer’s office with the new system, personnel issues, “and there have been management decision issues,” Kloeppel said.
Prussing’s first chief deputy was out on leave for part of the year, Kloeppel said, and Prussing hired C. Pius Weibel (a geologist and the former county board chairman) Oct. 7 to serve as her interim chief deputy.
Prussing also brought in former longtime county Treasurer Dan Welch on a part-time basis to help her office get caught up on property-tax work last year.
Prussing contended she’s done a good job investing the county’s money.
And in a property-tax collection cycle last year that was delayed by a late county multiplier issued by the state Department of Revenue, “we collected 99.99 percent of all the taxes,” she said.
Prussing also said she secured $118,000 in unclaimed county money from the state treasurer’s office.
“I did bring in money to the county,” she said.
Prussing said she believes her abilities are more along the lines of “big-picture policy” and budgeting rather than the more detailed accounting skills required for treasurer’s office.
“I think it’s just time to turn it over to somebody else who is probably more geared to accounting than I am,” she said.
Prussing also said she was leaving in the midst of an antagonistic political climate. And she contended that the size of the county board remains too large for the board to accomplish work effectively.
“I felt that way when I was a member of a 27-member (county) board, and they whacked it down to 22,” she said.