In a special called meeting Friday afternoon, the Fairhope City Council hired former Baldwin County Treasurer Kim Creech to assume the same role for the city, one that has been vacant since October.
Unanimously approving a resolution to hire Creech at a salary of $85,000 per year, the council also rejected a proposal by Mayor Karin Wilson to restructure the finance department.
Although Wilson did not disagree with Creech’s hiring and said Creech would be a valuable addition to the city, she proposed combining the treasurer position with the finance director under a new title of “Director of Finance and Treasury” and filling the open position with a manager or supervisor of treasury and revenue.
“In virtually all municipalities in the state, there is a treasury role, a clerk and oftentimes a finance director … we have all three,” Wilson said. “But the treasurer is often combined with the clerk or more times than not, the finance director. This is not about taking away an [council] appointment, it’s about making the director of finance and treasury one position. Added compliance could be accomplished by creating a manager of treasury and revenue. The way we’re operating now is the finance department is very siloed, and because of that, a big picture of a full financial state has never been accomplished.”
Wilson recommended the city’s current finance director, Jill Cabaniss, to assume the proposed new role, arguing the finance department has been more efficient without a treasurer, with faster procurement, timely payment of bills and satisfactory department management.
“You’re only adding bureaucracy when you’re adding more chiefs,” she said. “This is about separation of roles.”
Councilmen Jay Robinson and Jimmy Conyers agreed with separate aspects of Wilson’s opinion, but ultimately sided with Council President Jack Burrell in declaring the treasurer position a council appointment and exercising their right to fill the position.
“My personal feeling has always been that having that treasurer’s position is another line of defense in making sure that we’re following all the procedures in the ways they need to be done,” Robinson said. “That may be overkill and it probably does reduce efficiency, but I’m a stickler, a rules guy … and that’s the way I feel about it.” According to the city’s job description, the treasurer “is appointed by the City Council for a four-year term and is charged with the oversight and management of the city’s financial assets [and] the safety and proper use of all city funds,” including cash disbursements, revenue monitoring and oversight of all city cash accounts.
“In addition, the treasurer interacts with the finance department on general ledger recording and budgeting, with the city clerk on legal matters, with the revenue department concerning cash receipts and bank deposits and with City Council members on project funding and provision of required information for council discussion and decisions on financial matters.”
The treasurer has authority over all matters involving use of city funds, and the position currently carries a maximum pay of $100,170 annually.
In an interview prior to the meeting, Burrell called Creech’s hiring a “no brainer” and said the special meeting was called to secure her employment before she accepted other offers. He disclosed that earlier in the year, the council was prepared to hire former State Treasurer Young Boozer, but Boozer withdrew his application in order to lead a national campaign to encourage families to open 529 college savings plans.
“We thought we had big fish, but we were back to, ‘oh my God, we have to find a treasurer,’” he said. “We interviewed four other people and I couldn’t get three [councilmen] to agree on one person … and along comes someone who everyone likes. We already have 30 items on the agenda Monday and an executive session … the special meeting was called because we don’t want to take up more time and miss out on [Creech].”
The resolution also stipulates Creech will work from the same office occupied by previous treasurers. Since the office space was vacated last year, it was assumed by Human Resources Director Leslie Green, a mayoral appointee.
Wilson called the office arrangement “micromanagement to a T,” causing Burrell to retort: “It’s 1,000 percent the City Council’s prerogative to place [the treasurer] anywhere in the city we want, including your office. All I’m doing is putting people back where they were.
“This council needs to put their foot down, take control of the things we’re supposed to control and the state statute does not say ‘might,’ it says ‘shall,’” Burrell said of the appointment, before asking city attorney Marcus McDowell to recite a section of state law stipulating the council’s authority over real property.
After the meeting, Wilson called the appointment a “power move” on behalf of the council.
“Having [the city clerk, finance director and treasurer] all report to me is inefficient and about as bureaucratic as it can get,” she said, adding her recommendations on department restructuring were endorsed by a third-party auditor.
“I think [Creech] is going to be a great addition to the city,” Wilson said. “But her title at the county was finance and treasury. So she’s leaving a county that is structured the way I’m trying to do this, to a city that has now made this two positions.”
Regarding Burrell’s threat about taking away her office space, Wilson said “let him try.”
“He’s only embarrassing himself,” she said. “I will work out of my car; I’m here to serve. Everybody we have now is coming from a position of service, where we want to do better for the city. When you come from a position of power and you are politically driven, this is the price taxpayers will end up paying.”
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