County department heads fire back at board member's statements

Laurel Prussing is sworn in as new mayor of Urbana at the Urbana city Council meeting in May 2005. She was elected Champaign County treasurer last November.

URBANA — Three Champaign County department heads whom a Champaign County Board member said were not doing a good job fired back at their accuser, saying he is in error and needs to get his facts straight.

District 1 county board member Jim Goss, a Mahomet Republican, said Champaign County voters elected “probably the most unqualified set of candidates ever” in November’s election. He specifically called out Treasurer Laurel Prussing, Sheriff Dustin Heuerman and County Clerk Aaron Ammons.

All of those whom he mentioned are Democrats, and all are newly elected.

Goss’ statements appeared in a Rantoul Press article when he appeared at a Rantoul Exchange Club meeting.

Goss said the officials “have struggled mightily.”

He said Prussing had not reconciled the public bank account since February and had not given the county board a financial report of county finances since March.

Prussing denied that and said the financial information through July is on the county treasurer’s website.

“I’ve provided reports to the county board from time to time,” Prussing said. “I have the monthly report through July. That’s the fund balance.”

Prussing said Goss “doesn’t pay attention to things. He just throws out accusations.”

She denied Goss’ claim that she doesn’t show up at her office.

“I’ve shown up at the office at 8 in the morning every day since Dec. 3 when I got sworn in,” Prussing said. “For someone to say I’m not in the office is just flat out wrong.”

Prussing said Goss has been attacking her for months.

“He’s done it every chance he gets. Every county board meeting. He’s insulted me in emails.”

Prussing said she has politely asked Goss to stop, but he has not.

“He’s about the meanest person I’ve ever come across,” Prussing said.

And anyone’s claims that it was the treasurer’s office’s fault that county money was sent out late to taxing bodies are wrong because the Illinois Department of Revenue got the multipliers to the county late, she said.

Prussing said there has been a learning curve being new to the office, but she said her office has also had to deal with a new computer system for property taxes — switching from one developed years ago by the county to the DevNet system, which she said will ultimately be faster but has taken a while to get used to. The county board approved the new system in December.  

“Anybody who’s switched from one computerized system to another knows these things are never smooth,” Prussing said.

Ammons comments

Ammons had the strongest reactions to Goss’ statements and used Thursday night’s county board meeting to reply.

Aaron Ammons Sept. 25

AARON AMMONS

Goss said Ammons was “in over his head from the get go” as county clerk and said part of the problem was that almost of his qualified staff left. He said most of the people were “at-will employees who were likely to get fired anyway,” but said a couple of the “actual bargained employees left,” one being Sasha Green, whom he called the most respected tax extension specialist in the state. He also said Green was “sort of harassed during the campaign, in my mind.”

Ammons called Goss’ comments “inaccurate and derogatory” and said they sounded more like a campaign speech.

He said Goss had never spoken to him about any issue relating to the county board or to his office and said he has ignored or declined numerous invitations to tour the clerk’s office, meet the staff and view a demonstration of “our outdated and unsecure election equipment or otherwise gather any actual facts about any issue he wants to address.”

Addressing Goss’ statement that Ammons had been “over his head from the get go,” Ammons said rather he has been “positive and committed while dealing with years of administrative neglect; an orchestrated exodus of veteran staff who left with intellectual property of the county; serious election security issues; incomplete or completely missing personnel records; a 10-year gap in staff evaluations; a culture of unfair promotion practices that left qualified female candidates overlooked while Republican party insiders/donors were fast-tracked; and a voter registration program that was not maintained, causing serious issues that are documented by the State Board of Elections.”

Ammons pointedly denied Goss’ statement regarding personnel and noted that 11 of the 14 staff members of the clerk’s office are AFSCME members — “not at-will employees who were likely to be fired anyway.”

Ammons said if Goss had any direct contact with him on the issue he would have known that prior to Ammons being sworn in. Ammons said he sent a letter to staff making it clear he wanted everyone to stay, “that I was interested in doing the work of serving the taxpayers, and I reassured staff that I would not hold any ill will towards any of them regardless of what may have transpired during the course of the campaign.”

Ammons said the county clerk staff is “a beautiful balance and representation of Champaign County,” which he said is a goal of the county board.

Ammons said the clerk’s office has been able to promote from within, “and our outside hires have led to the most diverse staff ever in the clerk’s office.”

He said other accomplishments have included developing partnerships with the University of Illinois, MTD, Parkland College and smaller community-based organizations.

He cited numerous other services ranging from voter registration drives to handling an election to maintaining vital records to handling “our portion of the property tax cycle despite issues that were out of our control.”

He said his office, with the help of former lead tax extension specialist Andy Rhodes, hosted an educational presentation for road commissioners, handled numerous other duties and held six tax town hall meetings that explained the property tax cycle.

Ammons said it appears Goss is upset about “decades of negative consequences ... being unwound by the newly elected Democratic department heads.”

He asked Goss what ordinance, resolution or improvement to public policy that he has initiated that has passed.

Ammons accused Goss of only wanting to play “partisan politics, lie and misrepresent what is actually happening — a methodology that is straight out of President Donald Trump's playbook, complete with attempts to stoke the flames of sexism, racism and homophobia when he says that we are ‘the most unqualified candidates ever.’

“The fact that two women, two openly gay men and an African American were Democratic candidates for five county offices and now in charge of the five departments that were previously held for decades by white male heterosexuals, is not lost on me, or the voters of Champaign County,” Ammons said.

Heuerman comments

Heuerman said he feels he has a good working relationship with Goss “in our limited capacity.”

As for qualifications, Heuerman said he believes that depends on what a person is looking for in a leader.

Dustin Heuerman Sept. 25

DUSTIN HEUERMAN

“I don’t have as much administrative experience as my opponent (Allen Jones Jr.), but I did have a lot of diverse law-enforcement experience, 911 telecommunications, a master’s degree in criminology (and) a doctorate degree.”

Heuerman said he also offered more in terms of diversity than his opponents.

“Overall I believe either of us could have successfully led the sheriff’s office,” Heuerman said, “but we definitely have two different skill sets and personalities. I don’t think that makes me less qualified, just different.”

Heuerman said he disagrees with Goss’ statement that he is in over his head.

“This job has been challenging for sure, but nothing overwhelming or likely more than any other person would experience entering a new position,” he said. “My team keep me afloat, and I am grateful for that. I think the fact that I run the largest county department with likely the most liability and we haven’t had a major incident at the sheriff’s office since I took over is more than doing a decent job over the last nine months.”

dhinton@rantoulpress.com