Comptroller leaves department after coworker loses job

Published 06/18 2013 05:01PM

Updated 06/18 2013 05:28PM

URBANA -- As an unexpected twist during an emotional city council meeting, the city's comptroller announced his immediate retirement. Bill DeJarnette apologized to his staff, saying he was taking a stand against bullying. He called his workplace a "toxic environment."

"I will not hunker down and look over my shoulder every day in the hopes that somehow I get missed and am able to survival-shuffle to retirement as many others have," said DeJarnette.

His announcement came after a member of his department wasn't re-appointed to her post. The city council voted to appoint two members of the finance committee at Monday night's meeting.

But Liz Walden, the accounting supervisor, wasn't on that list. She's been working for the city for more than 20 years. Since she's been there, Walden said she's gotten positive feedback for her work so it was a shock when she heard the mayor wasn't going to bring her back.

"I have done nothing but give the City of Urbana loyalty and dedication," said Walden. "I love my job and have done my absolute best. I have never hesitated to work extra hours, to take on additional work and responsibility in order to support the city."

When council members discussed Walden's case, Mayor Laurel Prussing told them it was a personnel issue and she didn't want to talk about it during a public meeting. So the group went into an unplanned closed session. When they came back, Walden wasn't mentioned again.

Mayor Prussing said she's not re-appointed four people during her eight years in office. Three of those were because of bullying issues. And she said she's not surprised by Monday night's news.

"It seemed like there is this huge plan going on. It's all about the old regime not wanting to give up its power," said Prussing. "That's really what it boils down to and I've had problems with certain individuals for a number of years."

Some council members said the atmosphere in the city is tense now and they expect it will be for awhile. They said even though the mayor had a legal right to not re-appoint Walden, it wasn't the right thing to do.

"Probably every other at-will employee in the city is looking over their shoulder or looking at whether they want to get out," said Ward 2 alderman Eric Jakobsson. "And if I were in that position, I would be doing that."

That leaves just six people in the city's finance department. Mayor Prussing plans to bring in temporary help while they look for permanent replacements.

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