Laurel Prussing went to the well one too many times, and it didn’t end well.
On Friday, the veteran Urbana Democrat — a former county board member, county auditor, state legislator, mayor and county treasurer — announced that she’s finally had it with the treasurer’s office and, as a consequence, will step down just a year into the four-year term to which she was elected in November 2018.
Apparently overmatched from Day 1 by her new duties, Prussing, who’s pushing 80, attributed her decision to personal fatigue. But it also was also born of frustration over her failure to do the job she promised voters that she could do.
County Republicans, still smarting over their loss of influence in county government in the 2018 election, have been fuming for months over Prussing’s shortcomings as treasurer.
They’ve identified repeated performance lapses, including failures to send out property-tax bills in a timely manner and submit monthly financial reports to the county board.
All of which proves that what comes around goes around.
When Prussing was county auditor decades ago, she routinely criticized former GOP county treasurer Ormond Hixson for his occasional failures to move county money from non-interest-bearing to interest-bearing accounts.
Prussing’s attacks, astoundingly harsh by the standards of the time, eventually prompted the Champaign County Republican Party to dump Hixson as its endorsed standard-bearer and replace him with Roger Little, a Rantoul merchant who served 16 years in the office.
Prussing’s planned departure is set for Jan. 31. According to Champaign County State’s Attorney Julia Rietz, her replacement will be named by county board Chairman Giraldo Rosales with the advice and consent of the county board.
Rietz said because there are more than 28 months left in Prussing’s term, voters must elect a new treasurer in November.
Given the nature of the office and Prussing’s experience, both party leaders and prospective appointees will need to think long and hard about how to proceed.
With a staff of five (the treasurer and four employees), the county treasurer’s job is not ceremonial.
Former longtime Treasurer Daniel Welch said the next treasurer needs to be someone who can show “real leadership,” be “extremely organized” and “able to jump in and do the day-to-day work.”
“When tax season begins, it shouldn’t be beneath the treasurer to jump in and do the same work as everyone else in the office,” he said Friday.
Welch said he was “surprised, but not surprised” by Prussing’s resignation because he’s been working in the office to help her sort out a variety of problems that have cropped up.
“I know the issues. So I know that had I been the treasurer, I would have been very concerned,” he said.
Welch called the office a “detail office” that new treasurers without experience or competent assistants cannot possibly master.
He recalled that he worked in the office for 44 years, starting at age 18. By the time Welch was elected treasurer in 1998, he knew all the ins and outs required for his 19-year run.
That was not the case with Prussing, who was defeated in her bid for re-election as mayor of Urbana in 2017 and decided to run for treasurer in 2018.
Prussing said Friday that she ran for treasurer so the Democrats would have a candidate and planned to serve only one year before stepping down.
That one-year business is hard to swallow. Since when did Prussing — the “Terminator” of local politics, a relentless campaigning and governing machine — ever see herself stepping aside from the political fray? Her record demonstrates that whenever she was defeated in the past — for the Illinois House, the U.S. House and mayor — Prussing immediately began pursuit of another elective office.
If that statement actually is true — that she deceived voters by planning to serve only one year — it would demonstrate once again one of the major failings of the local Democratic and Republican parties — loyalty to party over loyalty to the public.
Nonetheless, Prussing showed her true colors to the end, bragging about her accomplishments in office, criticizing the county board as too large and asserting that she’s more suited to handling big-policy questions than mundane accounting chores. Some things never change.
Jim Dey is a staff writer for The News-Gazette. His email is firstname.lastname@example.org.