A special meeting Monday to name a part-time chief finance officer and then authorize resolutions requiring the CFO’s approval imploded Monday when city officials admitted the city is under state scrutiny for its lack of a properly-assigned CFO.
Councilman Adrian Mapp
had asked at the Oct. 13 meeting who was certifying that funds were available for three funding requests. When told that new Finance Director Bibi Taylor
had signed off on the requests, Mapp, a certified chief finance officer himself, objected. The title is a statutory one requiring advice and consent of the governing body and none had been sought. The resolutions were withdrawn.
On Monday, longtime city Audit & Control employee Sandra Cummings
was up for advice and consent of a mayoral appointment as “part-time chief financial officer” for a term not to exceed six months. But as the meeting began, Corporation Counsel Dan Williamson
said state officials had sent a letter to the mayor and council saying there is no such thing as a part-time or acting CFO.
Without a certified, approved CFO, basic fiscal functions cannot take place.
Williamson described talks with state officials going late into Monday, which even included state Local Government Services Director Susan Jacobucci
weighing in from her sickbed on her Blackberry. Certification specialist Dan Kaminski
was also involved in the talks, he said.
The state officials agreed to allow the mayor to appoint someone to serve duties of a chief financial officer for 90 days, Williamson said, while the city seeks a temporary or permanent CFO. Williamson said he was withdrawing Cummings’ nomination.
But then the bone of contention became the state letter itself. Council members said they never received it.
A discussion ensued about confusion over how letters to the governing body and administration are disseminated. Any communications for the City Council must go through City Clerk Laddie Wyatt
, as she is secretary to the governing body, but apparently that never happened in the CFO matter. Wyatt mentioned past confusion about sharing state communications to both the mayor and governing body.
Council members Monday asked Williamson and Dashield to produce the letter, even calling for officials to phone Mayor Sharon Robinson-Briggs,
who did not attend the meeting, to ask where it was.
Lacking the letter, Councilwoman Annie McWilliams said, “I don’t feel comfortable voting tonight without all the information.”
Councilman Adrian Mapp
said it was not the first time a letter was not shared, citing “disrespect” and “a pattern of withholding information from the governing body.”
Williamson said he could not say it was done purposely, but Council President Rashid Burney
said the council was “pretty firm” that it wanted to see the letter and asked Williamson to call the mayor to find out where it was.
The council recessed to allow Williamson to call the mayor, but when the meeting reconvened, he said he had been unable to reach Robinson-Briggs.
“I made every effort,” he said. “She has not answered.”
With that, he requested that the remaining three resolutions, all requiring certification of funding, be withdrawn.
Williams said he would send copies of the letter to all council members, but McWilliams said the letter should be sent to Wyatt as secretary to the council.
“I stand corrected,” Willamson said, promising to send all future official correspondence to the clerk.
As the council prepared to go on to a discussion of economic growth, Burney said the administration officials could leave and Williamson, City Administrator Marc Dashield
and department heads did so.
Before the meeting, Plaintalker looked into how the city has handled the CFO issue since the last permanent CFO, Peter Sepelya
, retired at the end of 2007.
On January 14, 2008, as “Acting Chief Financial Officer,” Sandra Cummings
signed a certification of sufficient funds to remove an oil tank from the Madison Avenue playground.
In September 2008, the City Council approved the appointment of Bridgewater CFO Natasha Turchan
as “Chief Financial Officer/Municipal Finance Officer” on a “part-time basis” retroactive to Aug. 25, 2008 and continuing through Dec. 31, 2008.
No subsequent nomination appeared in an online archive of agenda session documents. A February 17, 2009 resolution for professional engineering services contains language that sufficient funding was certified by a city CFO, but no certification was attached to the resolution as filed online. A special meeting on June 25, 2009 contains two resolutions offered by an “Acting Chief Finance Officer.” On Oct. 13, certification for funds for environmental services is guaranteed by the “Acting Comptroller of the City of Plainfield.”
It would appear that there was no officially appointed CFO after Turchan’s term expired.
The name of James Mangin
was offered in July at the same time Taylor was nominated and approved as director of the Administration & Finance, Health and Social Services, but Mangin was not hired. A permanent CFO receives a four-year term if hired. Mangin would have received a term starting Jan. 1, 2009 and ending Dec. 31, 2012.--Bernice Paglia