Saturday, December 29, 2007

On City Finances & Direction

Those trying to create a 'mini flap' over the recent selection of the new City Finance Director are simply not credible to this observer.
Here's why.

The new process used to identify and select qualified candidates for Finance Director was made necessary by that majority of voters who approved changing the City's Charter.
That change essentially made the Finance Director an appointed one, based upon professional qualifications, and not separately elected based upon political preference.

Our current Finance Director, who has essentially redefined that office in terms of competence and excellence, participated in writing the job description for her successor(s).

Based upon that job description, a nation-wide search was undertaken resulting in 29 responses.
From the 29 responses, 11 were selected for further communication.
From these 11, a short list of 4 was selected.
These 4 finalists were invited to Bellingham to make presentations in person, for interviews and reference checks.
I was among the approximately 2 dozen people who attended the presentations and rated the finalists.
Before these interviews, I had no idea who was on the list of finalists.

In my view, all of the 4 finalists were qualified for the job, although none rose to the level established by the outgoing FD.
But, I was gratified that the candidate offered the job was the one I -and as it turned out, most- preferred.

Three of the 4 finalists currently held similar positions in the State of Washington, so they were already up to speed on State regulations and practices -an advantage in my view.
Only one of the 4 had lived in the Bellingham area and was already familiar with local issues and challenges.
That was another plus in my book.

I think we are fortunate that John Carter was interested enough in becoming FD to apply for the job!
From his long service with the Port and participation in local affairs, he is already established here with his family.
He sees the City FD position as a bigger job with a greater diversity of demands that he is willing to undertake.
And, he loves this place!
Those things have all got to count for something positive.

In the end the FD position is now one that requires appointment by the Mayor AND confirmation by the Council - all of them elected officials.
Both of those are major changes from the past that I think will benefit the City.
In fact, up until now Bellingham was the ONLY City in the State of Washington that still elected its Finance Director!

But, there is another big reason that I feel good about this appointment.
Our outgoing Finance Director, Therese Holm, also enthusiastically supports it!
She used to work for the Port, too - with John Carter as her boss - and greatly respects him as a professional and as a person.
That alone, should be enough justication for his selection.

The appointment was made when it was for these reasons.
It was entirely appropriate for the new Mayor to make this appointment, with the support of the current Council.
The new mayor took office on November 27, which left 3 weeks to prepare for selecting FD finalists and make the new Mayor familiar with the process that had been in progress, as well as the final candidates.
Year-end time constraints made a special meeting necessary to make the FD appointment.

It was also appropriate for there to be some overlap between the outgoing FD leaving and the new Finance Director coming on board in the interest of continuity for this critically important position.
I'm glad all these considerations were able to be accommodated.

While it is understandable for some to disagree with elements of the process or the ultimate selection -for reasons real or imagined- but here are a few points I wish to make in support:
• The Finance Director remains a public office with primary responsibility for the public welfare and trust.
• The Finance Director is sworn to uphold the laws of our Nation, State and City.
• The Finance Director is directly accountable to the Mayor and the Council for satisfactory performance, and unlike elected officials, can be more readily fired for cause.
• The Finance Director is directly employed by the Municipal Corporation of the City of Bellingham, and must have its interests in mind in all official matters.

I believe the City will be well served by this appointment, and would certainly like to see the new FD succeed as expected.
The City has achieved an admirable record of excellence in financial reporting, accounting and budgeting during the last 8 years.
In fact, it is rare for any City to receive the various commendations that Bellingham has regularly received since 2000.
That legacy become the standard to which our new Finance Director -and future FDs- will be expected to match or exceed.
Rather than seeing this appointment as something for those inclined to carp about, let's get on with managing the real business of serving the public in the most effective & efficient manner possible.

I say welcome aboard John Carter!
We need your expertise, experience, energy and positive attitude to help the City address both its ongoing and future challenges.
As a member of a largely new management team at City Hall, your skills are needed.
Our best wishes and expectations will accompany you along with the task at hand.

And to Therese Holm, our sincere thanks for a job exceptionally well done!