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Friday, October 29, 2010

CFO mess: State ducks, could have done better

The Division of Local Government Services oversees CFO matters.
OK Plainfielders, let's see if we can figure out the latest CFO mess development.

So, we live in a state where our new governor, Chris Christie, can shut down the nation's largest public works project with a snap of his fingers (well, OK, he had to snap TWICE).

Yet, when it comes to one of his departments (DCA) making sure a division (Division of Local Government Services) takes swift, decisive action to resolve a longstanding issue with fiscal leadership in an important but dysfunctional local community (our fair city), what does the agency do? It punts.

As Plainfield bloggers have alreday reported/discussed -- see Maria here, Bernice here, Olddoc here, and Councilor Burney here -- the DLGS has ordered that a CFO be hired within 30 days, or both Mayor Robinson-Briggs and the City Council members individually will face fines of up to $25 per day.

So, instead of problem-solving, we find the new governor's folks falling back on an old bureaucratic game: problem-ducking.

It is totally beyond me why the DLGS would threaten the Council members with fines when they have done their very best to resolve the matter -- and been stymied at every turn by Robinson-Briggs' evasiveness and recalcitrance.

Everyone who hasn't been living under a rock for the past three years knows that it is Mayor Robinson-Briggs' responsibility to nominate a qualified, permanent CFO to oversee Plainfield's finances.

And they know it is the Council's responsibility to advise and consent to such an appointment.

While only two candidates have been put forward by Her Honor (and those after Robinson-Briggs was previously backed into a corner by successive DLGS deadlines), neither was able to overcome Council questions that would have paved the way to consent.

I can understand the DLGS reluctance to APPOINT a CFO itself, which the Council's request would amount to.

But, given the increasing evidence of suspect financial shenanigans turned up with each month's financial reports to the Council, the question arises: 'Couldn't the DCA have done better?'

I have referred to the DCA for a reason, because with an issue of such long standing and as serious as it is, one has to wonder why the top honcho DCA Commissioner Lori Grifa was not brought into the mix.

Nevertheless, I think there is something better that could have been done by the Trenton bureaucrats.



It is quite clear that Mayor Robinson-Briggs is either unwilling or unable to attract a qualified candidate.

It is also quite clear that it is beyond the Council's authority to resolve the matter.

What would an
HONEST BROKER do? Two things.

First, why not solicit retired CFOs -- of which there are a goodly number -- for a candidate (or perhaps two) willing to come out of retirement for a year for an appointment at a salary the prospect feels is fair and which the state orders the city to pay?

This would provide a qualified CFO, not beholden to any local political powers-that-be, to come in and try to get the city's fiscal situation under control.

It would also give Mayor Robinson-Briggs yet more time to search for a qualified and willing candidate.

Secondly, require Mayor Robinson-Briggs (who has evaded Council inquiries every time they are made) to report in writing to the Council and the DLGS on a monthly basis exactly where ads are placed for a candidate and how many responses have been received and the qualifications of same.

Surely, holding the Mayor to a higher level of accountability can do no harm.

The Council has already shown its willingness.

-- Dan Damon [follow]

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Rob said...

Someone who cannot find people to even interview with a 9% plus unemployment rate is completely incompetent or doesn't want someone doing the job. Fine the mayor back to the stone age. Shame and moral compass don't motivate that hot mess, maybe money will. Although I am sure Jerry is already coming to her aid as everyone reads the post.

Anonymous said...

Your points are well-taken. However, I don't think the intent of the State's response is to punish all the Council and the Mayor if a CFO is not found in the next 30 days. Note this line in the letter sent to Maria:

"Failure to comply with the order may result in individual fines of up to $25/day for each individual found to be in violation."

I interpret this statement to mean that if the Council acts in good faith and the Mayor is the fault, the Mayor would be the only person facing fines. I could be wrong but I hope this is the case.

Michael Townley said...

The obvious, temporary solution is to hire a retired CMFO at a per diem rate. It's not that difficult and, if I am not mistaken, was done previously in the City, several administrations ago. A mutually agreed-upon temporary CMFO would certainly help calm the waters.