BERLIN – Berlin Mayor Gee William’s decision to engage an outside accounting firm to take over some interim duties while the town works on hiring a new finance director concerned some town council members because the company was hired before the council had the chance to vote on the matter.
“I have a lot of heartburn,” said Council member Paula Lynch, after finding out Monday that the firm had already been hired.
Lynch said she does not object to the hiring of an accounting firm to undertake those duties, but the way it was done bothered her, with the firm hired even before the town council had a chance to consider the move.
The town council must sign off on any expenditure or purchase over $1,000, Lynch pointed out.
Lynch wondered why no one bothered to ask the town council before actually hiring a company, especially when e-mail communication is so fast. She also said she was astonished that no other firms had been asked to bid on the work.
The accountant assigned to the task by accounting firm Jefferson, Urian, Doane and Sterner, Charly Cursio, was already on site Monday before the Berlin Mayor and Council meeting, Lynch noted.
Lynch estimated that the accounting services could cost up to $60,000 by the time a new finance director is hired.
With no suitable candidate found to take over the finance director’s spot, and another member of the Berlin’s three-person accounting staff out on maternity leave, Williams felt that the town needed someone to take over some accounting and finance duties in the interim.
“I personally take responsibility,” said Williams.
It became apparent last week, after an interview with an unsuccessful candidate for the finance director’s position, that the hiring process was not fast enough, Williams said.
“I do know that e-mails fly…send me an e-mail, guys,” Lynch said. “… You all know that’s not the way you do stuff.”
The firm has been contracted for about 50 hours of work a month, town administrator Tony Carson said, including attendance at town council meetings.
Carson said that he had worked with the firm in his capacity as town manager for Fenwick, Del. and had wanted to work with people he already had a relationship with.
Councilman Dean Burrell said he agreed with Lynch’s concerns. He also wondered why the town had not pursued a local accounting office.
“We always try to spend money here in Berlin,” said Burrell. “We need to try to grow these relationships with local folks and let’s not forget that.”
Williams said, “I agree with you to a point…I don’t want to be in a situation where there’s a built in conflict of interest.”
A local company could have business relationships with other local entities the town must negotiate with, he said.
Williams said he does not expect to hire a new finance director, after the second round of the search, until December or January.
Human Resources Director Rachel Bomar said it would take at least three months to put together a new strategy designed to attract the type of applicants the town needs, do the advertising, and interview candidates.
“That’s turning it around very quickly for this caliber position,” said Bomar.
One dilemma for the town is the need to hire someone with government experience, which limits the pool of local candidates.