News Column

Decatur seeking finance director

June 26, 2014

By Eric Fleischauer, The Decatur Daily, Ala.

June 26--Mayor Don Kyle hopes to hire a director of finance and accounting at a salary of up to $89,000 a year, but one councilman said the city should instead fill the long-vacant chief financial officer position.

The new director position would allow the city to leave unfilled the position of CFO. The CFO position was last held by Gail Busbey, who retired in 2009.

Linda McKinney performed many of the CFO functions until she retired as finance supervisor April 1.

"Linda was going well beyond her job title in her role in the finance and accounting section," Kyle said. "We're a big enough organization that we need someone leading the accounting and finance functions who can direct it without assistance from anyone else, when there's no assistance available."

The salary range for the director of finance and accounting would be $58,000 to $89,000. The vacant CFO position has a pay range of $69,000 to $106,000. The finance supervisor position has a salary range of $43,000 to $68,000.

The City Council approved creation of a director of finance position and accounting in February. Twenty-six candidates applied.

"It was a quite disappointing batch of applicants," Kyle said. "In our minimum requirements we asked for an accounting degree, a finance degree or equivalent, and a minimum of five years of direct experience either in municipal accounting or in auditing municipalities. We didn't get both of those requirements met on any of the applications, so we opened it back up."

Among those who applied for the position was a former treasurer of the city of Atlanta and an administrative analyst for the Birmingham mayor's office.

Councilman Billy Jackson said the city needs a CFO. The decision to instead hire a director of finance and accounting -- at a lower salary and with narrower responsibilities -- is an effort by the mayor to exert too much control over the budget, Jackson said.

"The reason we're creating this position instead of filling the chief financial officer spot is that Don Kyle does not want to relinquish any responsibility for being the chief budget preparer," Jackson said. "If we have a director instead of a CFO, then nobody else is responsible for having a broad understanding of the budget."

Jackson said he agrees with Kyle that a finance supervisor is not adequate to oversee the budget, but he believes the city has struggled since the CFO spot was left vacant five years ago. The higher pay of a CFO and the broader responsibilities, he said, are critical.

"We're tiptoeing through a financial minefield right now," Jackson said. "We can't afford to pinch pennies when it comes to getting a person who knows the financial ins-and-outs of a municipal budget.

"There have been lots of problems since Gail Busbey left, and we won't solve them until we hire a chief financial officer."

Jackson said a CFO could have helped the council evaluate the planned Sweetwater development, to be anchored by a Bass Pro Outdoor World store. The CFO, he said, would have had a thorough understanding of the budgetary implications of Sweetwater, but would not have been immersed in the politics that affect elected officials.

The deadline for applications for director of finance and accounting is July 7.

Personnel Director Ken Smith said he has received about a dozen additional applications and hopes for more by the deadline.

"What I was hoping for was that the council would have four or five people to choose from for interviews that had the relevant skills," Smith said. "I didn't see it (in the first set of applications) and the mayor didn't see it. That's why I made the suggestion maybe we wanted to keep it open and give more people an opportunity to see our ad."

Several of those who applied to the first advertisement had significant accounting or finance experience in the private sector.

"Someone coming out of the private sector might have a totally different skill set," Smith said. "We did not have people that showed they had the experience to step in and take that job and be able to run with it."

Smith said the city would have an urgent need to fill the position if Kyle did not have a banking background.

"Right now we've got a very capable mayor that understands finance," Smith said. "That's a plus, but we need a staffer that has that capability. That's what this person would do."

Smith said McKinney's abilities also delayed the urgency of either hiring a CFO or creating the position of director of finance and accounting.

"If we had a different mayor, the crisis may be different," Smith said.

"Certainly if I hadn't had Linda McKinney with her talents, the crisis would have been there long ago. What we're doing is putting someone with those talents on staff, so we have that capability going into the future."

The goal, Kyle said, is to make sure someone with expertise in finance and accounting remains with the city from one election to the next.

"It's a move toward strength and continuity as administrations change and councils change," he said. "We want to create a situation where a person is here permanently, as a career, who will be here to continue the planning and structuring and budgeting and all the things that go on day to day."

Eric Fleischauer can be reached at 256-340-2435 or Follow on Twitter @DD_Fleischauer.


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Source: Decatur Daily (AL)

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