Jefferson City Council commits to hiring new finance director

Official: Job description must be narrowed down

The Jefferson City Council has decided to pursue a full-time finance director, but what that position really will entail is still undecided.

Information Technology Director Bill Betts has been serving as interim finance director since January, after two national searches failed to find a new director.

In this year’s budget process, the finance director position, which was left unfunded in City Administrator Nathan Nickolaus’ proposed budget, was slated a $130,000 salary in Mayor Eric Struemph’s proposed budget. A majority of council members have backed the idea of hiring a finance director within the next fiscal year, rather than waiting until city finances are in better condition.

But Nickolaus said the council will need to figure out what is desired from the position before it can be filled. He said council members seem to have varying ideas of what the position should be, from more of an accountant to an economist.

“We need to develop a better job description,” Nickolaus said. “Even amongst the council, they all have different ideas of what this person is supposed to do.”

Nickolaus has often characterized the position as simply managerial, meaning the city only needs someone who can ensure the employees within the Finance Department are doing what they need to do. But at a previous budget meeting, some council members described the finance director position with more of a focus on economic predictions, economic development or accounting.

Mayor Eric Struemph has said he wants someone with experience, which Nickolaus said would point to a finance director from another city, while some council members have indicated a desire for the position to be filled by a certified professional accountant.

“We need to kind of get some consensus from the council as to what they expect from a finance director,” Nickolaus said. “The worst scenario is if you try and recruit somebody who has every capability that every council person wants. That will be virtually impossible.”

“We really have to figure out, as always, what is most important? What is it we really want?”

When asked if Nickolaus believed the position could be filled by a current employee, he said though he always likes to promote from within, there isn’t anyone he believes would be apprpriate for the position in this case.

Earlier this year, though, Nickolaus attempted to do just that.

In January, the city announced that it would create the position of assistant city administrator, which would have combined the IT director and finance director positions, and promote Betts, all of which was decided in a closed session by the City Council.

But the position was never created after questions arose about the way the council had made the decision behind closed doors.

At a budget meeting Monday, 3rd Ward Councilman Ken Hussey, who was not a council member in January, said he doesn’t know where the discussion of that position went, but it seems like an idea that’s worth exploring.

Nickolaus said he believes the council has decided not to pursue the assistant city administrator position and does not believe it is a concept that will be revived.

“I think it’s clear that that concept is dead,” Nickolaus said. “You can’t hire a finance director and pursue that concept. You’re just wasting money.”

Nickolaus said once the budget is approved, the search process will begin for the new director.

At a previous budget meeting, Human Resources Director Gail Strope said the process likely would take about three to six months.

In the meantime, Nickolaus said there are agencies that could provide an interim director for the city while they undergo the search process, though at least one council member voiced some opposition to the idea at the last Budget Committee meeting.

“In view of the council’s obvious concern about that situation, I think we probably ought to look at doing that,” Nickolaus said. “I would start the process right away.”

But after two failed national searches, the city may need to alter its approach to the process. Nickolaus said one change that needs to be made is speeding up and simplifying the process. For example, he said previous searches included “too many people on the hiring committee,” which makes scheduling a difficult task in itself and slows the overall process.

Another change will be the expanded residency requirements. In May, the council approved a bill expanding residency requirements for certain department directors to a 15-mile radius around Jefferson City.

The change was a direct result of the failed searches as city officials had said some candidates had to be disqualified from the process because they lived just outside city limits and were unwilling to move.

“I always said when you cut it to just the city limits, you’re cutting out essentially half your applicants,” Nickolaus said.

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