Three Rivers’ search for next finance director slow going

City Manager Joe Bippus (left) addresses the Three Rivers City Commission during its regular meeting on Tuesday, May 2 at Three Rivers City Hall. (Beca Welty|Watershed Voice)

Three Rivers city commissioners received an update from City Manager Joe Bippus Tuesday regarding the city’s search for a new finance director.

Former Finance Director Cathy Lawson resigned at the end of March, and Bippus told Watershed Voice City Clerk Leslie Wilson is serving as the deputy finance director in the interim. The city has also been utilizing the Rehmann Robson auditing firm to assist with those duties. At Tuesday night’s city commission meeting, commissioners were asked to approve a funds allocation agreement to continue using the accounting services offered by Rehmann.

Commissioner Chris Abel asked Bippus what the status is regarding the hiring of a new finance director. “We’ve been advertising, we’ve had some applicants, and we’ve been doing some background on some of them,” Bippus said. “But right (now) there isn’t anyone that seems fully qualified, who’s applied.” When At-Large Commissioner Torrey Brown asked if the city was offering competitive wages for the position, Bippus said he thought so, especially compared to what other communities the same size as Three Rivers are currently paying.

Commissioner Lucas Allen had questions about whether it would be possible to not fill the position left behind by Lawson but instead subcontract the role out to Rehmann. “I know this 400 hours for $45,000 is extreme compared to what we paid Cathy,” Allen said. “If we offer them a full-time gig would they give us enough to not have to worry about a full-time job with benefits and possibly save any money?”

Bippus said the services offered by Rehmann are “a la carte,” and the firm can work one or two days a week, they can take over as finance director, work remotely, or work with a staff member in the office. “At this point, I was still trying to hope to get an internal employee like we’ve had fill it, and I was just looking for something temporary, but that may change,” Bippus said. “There’s a lot of job openings out there and unfilled jobs for this position.”

The question of whether it would cost the city more to contract with Rehmann rather than a full-time employee was asked by Commissioner Pat Dane. “If we went out to them and offered them the position to do what Cathy did, would it be a lot more money than what we paid her plus benefits?” Dane asked. Bippus said it would “probably be more,” and Mayor Tom Lowry said, “What they are charging is over $200 an hour. We need to get an in-house person.”

Lowry next asked Bippus whether the auditing firm would be able to do the city’s summer audit if commissioners decided to approve the fund allocations agreement. “I ask because our first workshop is in three weeks,” Lowry said. “Yes, we’ve mapped this out so they aren’t breaching that fiduciary responsibility to be an auditor,” Bippus said. Bippus went on to say if the city decided to subcontract Rehmann to be the official finance director for Three Rivers, then the firm wouldn’t be able to also be their auditors. 

Bippus finished his update by saying, “We’ve been providing them (Rehmann) information and working in-house like we normally do with our capital projects and things like that. It’s moving forward, they seem to think they are on track, and then we’ll be able to present a budget to you guys later this month.”

According to the city’s website, the director of finance and administration position will direct, manage, and oversee the activities and operations of the Administrative Services Departments. The director will administer the fiscal operations of the city; provide direction and strategic planning for various projects assigned by the city manager; function as the chief financial officer for the city; provide highly responsible and complex administrative support to the city manager; and perform other duties as assigned by the city manager. 

The job posting on the city’s website states the position requires a bachelor’s degree from an accredited college or university with a major in accounting, public administration, or a closely related field, or an equivalent combination of experience and education. A Masters of Business Administration, Masters of Public Administration, or Certified Public Accountant degree plus three years of municipal and economic development experience is preferred. Additionally, the city requires applicants to have four years of “broad and increasingly responsible administrative experience in financial management, planning, organization, coordination, and direction of varied municipal activities including a portion of which involved personnel administration and supervising other professional staff.”

Salary for the position is $80,000—$95,000 commensurate with knowledge, skills, and experience, plus benefits. Those interested may apply online, and the position will remain open until filled. 

Beca Welty is a staff writer and columnist for Watershed Voice.