City council members have not received a financial statement with city fund balances in several months, according to officials, and they may not see another one until after a new chief financial officer is in place.
Vice Mayor Joseph Mickens, who represents Ward 2, questioned Mayor Keith Gaskin and Human Resources Director Pat Mitchell during Tuesday’s meeting about why the council wasn’t getting monthly financial statements.
Gaskin responded that those would resume after a permanent CFO was hired, leading Mickens then to question why the interim volunteer in that position, accountant Linda Holliman, wasn’t doing it.
“So the person who’s there now is not capable of giving us a financial statement?” Mickens asked.
Holliman took over as volunteer interim after Mike Bernson, the retired Columbus Light and Water CFO who had also been volunteering as interim for the city, left in January. The city hasn’t had a full-time CFO since Deliah Vaughn left the role in September for a job with West Point.
Mitchell told the council on Tuesday that Holliman’s main duties were making sure payroll and other bills, including debt service, were being paid.
“As far as monitoring the general fund and all that, she’s not balancing that,” Mitchell said.
That turned discussion to the status of the CFO search, which Mitchell said had yielded 22 applicants with the required four-year accounting degree. She said the hiring committee would soon meet to review those applicants and narrow the field to three finalists.
This is the second time the city has advertised the CFO vacancy, first offering to pay in the $75,000 range but opting in February to re-advertise at a salary of $100,000.
Gaskin said, with the city’s new chief operations officer, Jammie Garrett, starting work Monday, he hopes to pull her into the hiring process for CFO since those positions will work together closely.
“We have some very good applicants, I think, this round,” Gaskin said. “I don’t see any reason why we won’t be moving quickly this month and have someone in place.”
In a phone interview this morning, Gaskin told The Dispatch any financial statement provided to the council “wouldn’t be worth the paper it’s written on.”
“It’s absurd to think we would get an accurate balance at this point,” he said. “At least, not anything that I would be confident in. … How could we use (a financial statement) to make good decisions at this point when we know there are inaccuracies in our finances?”
The city’s annual audit for Fiscal Year 2020 still has not been completed due to information being turned in late or because financial information that was submitted was inaccurate, Gaskin previously told The Dispatch. With no one yet in the full-time CFO position, the city has not been able to determine accurate fund balances, which Gaskin noted likely weren’t accurate even before Vaughn left.
Even with a new CFO, Gaskin said he believes an independent accountant would still need to help accurately balance the books and give the city a clear picture of its finances.
“Clearly our finances aren’t where they need to be,” he said. “That’s no secret. … If we had been moving forward with a forensic audit, we would be in a much better position.”
Mickens, speaking with The Dispatch this morning, said he wasn’t satisfied with Gaskin’s response.
“If I was satisfied, I wouldn’t have asked the question,” he said.
At minimum, Mickens believes the council should see monthly revenue and expenses, along with year-to-date comparisons.
“That’s crucial to us knowing where we are right now, and I ain’t a rocket scientist or an accountant, but I know that can be done,” Mickens said. “You know how much you took in for a month, and you know how much you spent.”
Still, he said his question Tuesday was mainly meant to “put pressure” on expediting the CFO hiring process.
“I didn’t want to say this, but we’re dragging our feet,” he said.
Zack Plair is the managing editor for The Dispatch.