Public Safety, Development Issues Dominate Mayoral Debate
By Jeff Bossert
In a debate hosted by the League of Women Voters and Champaign County NAACP Friday, Les Stratton and incumbent Urbana Mayor Laurel Prussing differed on largely economic issues, and how to improve public safety.
Stratton, a retired city employee and political newcomer, focused on many of the areas he’s brought up during a series of press conferences, ranging from the redevelopment city’s Historic Landmark Hotel to street construction.
The two took turns taking questions from the audience, submitted on index cards.
Prussing, who’s seeking a third term, found herself defending a number of issues, including the Olympian Drive extension.
“We’re building on a road that is not even currently in the city,” Stratton said. “As it is, it is only a pipeline to Champaign.”
The Mayor said the point of the route is to connect Lincoln Avenue, and noted the same development in Champaign has brought a lot of business.
Prussing also defended the $5 million Boneyard Creek beautification project, which she said incorporates the public’s wishes. “We don’t Urbana to be the only one that the ugly part of the Boneyard when Champaign has beautified it and (the University of Illinois) has beautified it, too," she said.
Stratton said the project in and of itself is ‘okay.’ Still, he said $5 million spent in one space is hard to justify without having businesses on board beforehand.
“If we going to be working with your money, then I need some guarantees,” he said. “I need to make sure that if I’m going to spending your money, then I’ve got some businesses that are willing to try and help develop along those lines.”
Stratton wants to use $380,000 in overtime from Urbana’s fire department to place additional police officers in the Philo Road area.
But Prussing said if those funds were shifted from fire to police, the city couldn’t have three firefighters per truck. She also said it is wrong to pit the departments against one another.
“And cutting the overtime for fire is not going to help fire four new police officers, because each new officer would cost $100,000,” she said.
Prussing noted the city has used community policing for many years, including the years that it was led by former assistant chief Anthony Cobb, who’s now the Champaign Police Chief. She said crime has gone down 25% across the city, due in part to condemning the units at Urbana Townhomes.
Stratton also criticized Prussing’s decision to dismiss her Chief Administrative Officer and later hire a Chief of Staff.
“We need a second set of eyes to watch contracts, to watch the budget, to develop contacts with the businesses that want to come here,” he said. “I believe the restoration of the CAO would have prevented some of the situations that we’re currently in now.”
Prussing said Urbana has performed very well since Bruce Walden was dismissed as CAO, and thinks Mike Monson is doing an outstanding job as Chief of Staff. She said she does not believe she needs a liaison between her and department heads.
Prussing and Stratton were asked about the city budget and its comparison to Champaign in terms of tax rates.
“Urbana should never be a second city,” he said. “However, because of the way we handle things, we’re bridging the gap with additional taxes and fees, things that should have been made up for with economic development in the early years of the current administration.”
The winner faces Rex Bradfield in the April 9th election.
Friday's debate also featured the Democratic candidates for City Clerk, incumbent Phyllis Clark and challenger Robert Michael Gatsche.