News Local/State

Urbana Council Members Unveil Employee Plan; Mayor Declines Comment


Recent comments over the workplace atmosphere from former Urbana city employees have prompted two city council members to seek new procedures.

Two months ago, Urbana Comptroller Bill DeJarnette abruptly resigned during a city council meeting, citing what he called ‘bullying’ within the city staff.

"If by my standing up and taking the professional financial consequences of my beliefs it might foster change in this toxic environment, then it was worth it," he said. "If to foster change, someone must be first, then I will be first.”

DeJarnette's comments at the June 17 city council meeting came after former accounting supervisor Liz Walden was not reappointed by Mayor Laurel Prussing. That decision was upheld by the council.

The new suggestions from Alderpersons Diane Marlin and Eric Jakobsson would mean reducing the number of employees who report directly to the mayor from about 30 to 10, and to have all employees fill out a workplace climate survey.

Marlin said employees deserve to have a voice.

"These workplace climate surveys don’t have to be long and involved, and it doesn’t involve hiring an outside consultant," she said. "It just means using a tool to get feedback from employees. And they’re voluntary, they’re anonymous, and it gives employees a voice.  And I think that’s really important.”

The proposal also asks mayor to provide written reasons for a dismissal of someone on his or her management team in the last two years of a mayoral term.

Prussing would not comment on the proposal, noting a lawsuit against the city from a former employee is now pending. 

Jakobsson said that should not get in the way of employee policy, something he and Marlin announced in the media over a month ago.

“We're just doing what we said we were going to do - which is something we think needs to be done as a matter of public policy," he said. "Whether the rest of the council or the mayor agrees with us, whether they want to defer it, that will be up to the other council members.”

Jakobsson and Marlin planned to introduce their proposal at Monday night's Urbana City Council committee of the whole meeting, and hold a council discussion later in the month.

But city attorney Jim Simon advised them not to, because of the pending lawsuit.  He said Walden has threatened legal action against the city, but is not sure whether she'll carry that out. 

The council has been advised to wait six to eight months before having the proposal discussed by the City Council.  Jakobsson and Marlin relented, after a short debate.

Marlin was asked Tuesday about whether the delay would indeed take half a year or more. 

"I'm not sure about the timetable, it depends on how things work out," she said.