Insurer Pays City Of Urbana In Comp Time Dispute
The city of Urbana says it’s been paid by its insurance company for a case of employee theft, but an attorney for the now-retired employee denies the charge.
Mayor Laurel Prussing says a general liability insurance payment to the city of $42,209.75 means they don’t have to go after retired city comptroller Ron Eldridge for the money. The city accused both Eldrige and former accounting supervisor Liz Walden of taking comp time they were not entitled to. Walden had already paid the city $4,164.93 to settle her dispute.
Prussing says the matter illustrated problems in the city of Urbana’s finance system, which she says are being rectified, now that Eldridge has retired.
“One person should not be the only person that understands the system”, said Prussing. “It needs to be very open. And I want to have the department heads run their budgets, instead of having one other person make all the transfers without even notifying department heads. We are changing the system.”
But Eldridge’s attorney, Steve Beckett, says the city’s insurance company never contacted him or his client to get their side of the story. He called the insurance company’s handling of the matter “grossly unfair and inappropriate”.
Beckett said another insurer for the city of Urbana that did speak to Eldridge rejected the city’s claim. That’s RLI, the firm that bonded Eldridge, as required for city financial employees. In an October 9, 2014 letter to the city’s attorneys, Albert Chollet, representing RLI, stated that “all available evidence indicates that Eldridge’s use of compensatory time was consistent with long standing policy of the Finance Department and perhaps other departments”.
Beckett says Eldridge’s use of flex time was also supported by an affidavit from former Urbana Mayor Tod Sattherthwaite. In that affidavit, Satterthwaite wrote that he “considered Ron’s (Eldridge) use of time off to be consistent with my understanding of Urbana policy and practice for exempt employees”.
Beckett said that the city’s receipt of payment from its general liability insurer on grounds of employee theft would likely lead to the insurer seeking repayment from Eldridge. Beckett predicted that case would end up in court.
This dispute has a long tail. Prussing launched the city of Urbana’s legal action over comp time against Eldridge and Liz Walden, after Walden sued the city over the non-renewal of her contract in 2013. That dismissal sparked controversy because Liz Walden is married to Bruce Walden, who Prussing had dismissed as chief administrative officer in 2007.
Walden’s dismissal, and the city’s legal costs in the dispute (about $200,000, according to Prussing) led to criticism from some Urbana City Council members, who called for changes in the rules surrounding mayoral appointments. Prussing defended the legal expenses, saying the city has to defend itself when sued.
“We were sued”, said Prussing. “In the United States of America, if you are sued, it’s going to cost you money to defend yourself.”