DeKalb County, GA, August 31, 2016 – Op-Ed by DeKalb District One Commissioner Nancy Jester – DeKalb County does not have a Chief Financial Officer (CFO). DeKalb County has been without a CFO since January 1st, 2016. DeKalb County has once again not met the deadline for submitting its audited Comprehensive Annual Financial Report (CAFR), due 180 days after the end of the fiscal year. DeKalb County’s inability to produce audited financial statements recently led to the county’s use of private placement rather than a public offering to fund Certificates of Participation (COPs – a type of debt instrument).
In order for DeKalb to hire a CFO, CEO Lee May must nominate a candidate to be approved by the Board of Commissioners (BOC). To date, the BOC has not received a nomination for CFO from CEO May.
The County did advertise for the CFO position earlier in the year. We conducted interviews and CEO May generously invited me to participate in the interviews. I participated in the interviews of each candidate. Commissioner Barnes-Sutton was also invited and chose to participate some, but not all, of the interviews. The CEO, COO, and a consultant also participated in the process.
In my opinion, one candidate stood out as a particularly good fit for DeKalb. This candidate has experience overhauling finance departments and improving their performance. The candidate has robust Oracle programming skills, which is a must for our next CFO as the cash management modules and other Oracle functionality are not fully understood or utilized within the finance department. This candidate had impeccable credentials and a sterling reputation. Unfortunately, no one we interviewed was ever brought to the BOC for consideration. We are now about to enter the 9th month of the fiscal year without financial management leadership.
The main conduit for the Board of Commissioners to monitor and insert itself into the discussion of financial management is via the Finance, Audit, and Budget Committee (referred to as FAB). Unfortunately, since I was elected in December of 2014, the FAB Committee has operated, almost exclusively, as a contract review committee. While contracts represent the assignment and expenditure of financial resources, the letting and management of contracts is not a function of finance, audit, or budgeting. Contract review is best done by the committee of jurisdiction (i.e. contracts for watershed projects should be reviewed by the Public Works Committee). We do have much work to do to improve county Contracting and Purchasing but that is a different discussion entirely.
Committee assignments, including chairmanships, are assigned by the BOC’s Presiding Officer, Commissioner Larry Johnson. Commissioner Johnson has assigned Commissioner Barnes-Sutton as the Chair of the FAB Committee for several years, including this one. During the middle of 2016, I was assigned to serve as a member on the committee.
Based on the recent election results we know that Commissioner Barnes-Sutton will not be returning in 2017 to represent District 4. Voters spoke clearly about their desire to see change. Unfortunately, Commissioner Johnson has left Commissioner Barnes-Sutton in a very important and influential position as the chairperson of the FAB committee. Given the election results and billion dollar plus budgets of DeKalb County, I do not believe this is the best risk mitigation strategy for the county.
Even without the inherent risk associated with a lame duck commissioner at the helm of the finances of DeKalb County, the Presiding Officer, indeed the administration, should recognize and demand that the FAB committee operate with some respect to the topics spelled out in its name. Chiefly, the FAB Committee should have regular reviews of the financial positions of the county, including department level budget versus actual reports. No one at the BOC is formally minding the store. You don’t operate your family budget and checkbook without oversight and reconciliation and neither should the county.
Since at least 2010, it was within the purview of the FAB Committee to recommend an auditor to the BOC. That never happened. And, the legislature and voters stepped in and passed a law that set up an outside oversight committee to find and nominate an auditor. This wouldn’t have been necessary had the FAB Committee lived up to its obligations.
Now we are without a CFO, we have FAB Committee that does nothing involving financial review, our Presiding Officer lets this continue, and our CEO won’t bring forth a nomination for CFO.
Having a competent, skilled, ethical Chief Financial Officer, is a necessary condition for DeKalb to operate properly right now. Having a FAB Committee with a chairperson that understands that the “F” means Finance is also necessary. Leadership needs to stop looking the other way and get in gear.