City’s finance department: Better or worse? (February 23, 2002)
Third in a series that resumes Wednesday.
By JOURNAL STAFF WRITER Christofer Machniak
Flint — During his State of the City speech this month, Mayor Woodrow Stanley hailed how the city completed its annual audit four months earlier than last year to show progress in reforming the troubled Finance Department.
But backers of the March 5 recall election like to point out the 2000-01 audit was still 30 days late.
Failing to provide financial records and account data for a timely 2000 audit is the third reason Citizens United for Better Government cites for ousting Stanley.
If an administration has 10 years of experience and has the temerity to brag about a failure … then this administration is demonstrating it’s an incompetent administration, said Sid Edwards, a spokesman for Citizens United.
But city officials said getting the audit sooner illustrates a Finance Department on the rebound. Following the start of a City Council investigation into the department last summer, Stanley assembled a task force of community and business leaders that recommended an overhaul, including a new finance director and nine workers.
Only half of the workers have been hired and the mayor’s nominee for finance director still needs council approval. But enough progress has been made that extremely late audits should be a thing of the past, said City Administrator Darnell Earley.
Earley said removing Stanley now will only jeopardize the progress made in fixing the department.
We’ve certainly turned that corner, Earley said.
The reforms that we’ve put in place are giving us now a much more pro-active posture.
But recall proponents said voters shouldn’t forget the past, in which the city has been late with audits for the past five years. The resulting inability to provide timely and accurate financial numbers slowed decisions in responding to the $28.4-million debt.
The department’s difficulties began with a brain drain in the finance office following an early retirement program in the mid-1990s. Council members also charge the department experienced a lot of transfers in and out, blaming poor management skills on former Finance Director Marc Puckett.
The loss of talent, combined with problems associated with the Y2K conversion and making the city’s new computer systems work together, overwhelmed the department when Matthew A. Grady came to the position in early 1999.
Grady, who had been budget director, took over from Puckett, left his job under a cloud in the wake of the discovery that he failed to transfer about $20 million to the pension system, which cost the city about $1 million in interest.
Problems with productivity, skills levels, and accountability led the city to bring in financial consultant Arthur Andersen to provide management advice. The lack of available trained staffing led the city to pay auditor BKR DuPuis & Ryden to perform some of the work.
When I first got down to the Finance Department, we were fighting for our life, you know, that’s the only way I can describe it, Grady said during testimony given during a council hearing in September on the problems.
But Grady also testified that his department made significant progress in many areas, including resolving a $21-million property tax problem with the state and problems the city had in improperly distributing tax money to other entities.
Despite the progress, the city still couldn’t provide the council with the information it wanted, which led to spending the council never approved. In addition, the information gap led to credibility problems that have kept the mayor and council mostly at odds over the past two years.
Earley said council confirmation of the new finance director, Peter Dobrzeniecki, will go a long way to sustain reforms.
But Edwards said the Dobrzeniecki decision is just another example of Stanley’s poor choice of appointees. Dobrzeniecki’s contract as finance director for the city of Eastpointe was not renewed in 2001 by a 4-1 City Council vote. Ten years ago, Puckett lost the same job in Eastpointe, by the same vote.
City officials say both votes were politically based, but Edwards finds the decision to get someone who lost his job from the same city too typical.
The leadership in the Finance Department is sorely lacking, Edwards said.
I don’t think the Detroit environs is the only area to produce such people because the ones they’ve sent haven’t performed to what I expect.
Christofer Machniak covers Flint city government. He can be reached at (810) 766-6304 or [email protected].
Copyright Flint Journal / MLive Media Group (mlive.com). Used with permission.
Files dealing with Marc Puckett
- 19920114 Minutes of a special meeting of the city council for the City of East Detroit, Macomb County, Michigan
- 19920225 Minutes of a special meeting of the city council for the City of East Detroit, Macomb County, Michigan
- 19920303 Minutes of a special meeting of the city council for the City of East Detroit, Macomb County, Michigan
- 19920305 Minutes of a special meeting of the city council for the City of East Detroit, Macomb County, Michigan
- 19920319 Minutes of a special meeting of the city council for the City of East Detroit, Macomb County, Michigan
- 19920623 Minutes of a special meeting of the city council for the City of East Detroit, Macomb County, Michigan
- 19960111 Retirement firm accuses official of favoritism
- 19960403 Folks soaked by water bills may get relief
- 19960920 Marc Puckett’s red light ticket
- 19990130 $9-million pension fund transfer raises questions
- 19990202 Retirement panel urges ‘immediate’ audit of plan
- 19990203 Retirement board splits over need for independent manager
- 19990203 Finance director resigns under fire of pension flap
- 19990210 Former finance director lashes back at critics, hints suit
- 19990224 Flint to boost pension fund
- 19990319 Flint sent tax funds to wrong units
- 19990326 Ex-finance director cashes in on $6,000 in unused vacation time
- 19990330 Flint could owe state millions some industrial facilities taxes have not been paid since 1996
- 19990408 Stanley acts on money woes, appoints new finance chief
- 19990411 Stanley must share blame as part of his plan to fix city’s financial woes
- 19990909 Audit details shortfalls in financial procedures
- 20100219 Personal injury complaint against Marc Puckett
- 20100408 Answer of defendant, Marc R. Puckett, to plaintiffs’ complaint
- 20101227 New finance director to step down
- 20101228 Marc Puckett out — Again
- 20101230 Leadership turmoil
- 20110104 The world according to John Moorlach
- 20110110 City faces $231,000 deficit
- 20110113 Interim finance director named
- 20110210 Marc Puckett’s speeding ticket
- 201102405 Marc Puckett’s ticket for stopping on a red signal
- 20110817 Marc Puckett’s ticket for no license plate
- 20120309 Marc Puckett’s Orange County accident case information
- 20120425 Marc Puckett’s speeding ticket
- 20120703 Marc Puckett’s speeding ticket
- 20140724 Marc Puckett’s speeding ticket
- 20141124 Marc Puckett’s ticket for coasting out of gear
- 20141205 Marc Puckett’s ticket for speeding
- 20150529 Marc Puckett’s ticket for improper use of preferred lane
- Comments for tonight’s council meeting
- The innumerate Mr. Puckett
- Shill crazy after all these years
- Earth to Puckett!
- About those awards
- One PRR story: American Express (CC)
- 20160913 Documents link top Apple Valley official to #FlintWaterCrisis
- 20160913 Investigation: Flint / Apple Valley Connection
- 20160915 Economic Speech (Trump)
- 20161018 Will Apple Valley become California’s Flint, MI?
- 20170319 Trump EPA grants Michigan $100 million to fix Flint water system
- 20170320 Sinkhole: Effort to replace pipes to Flint homes off to slow start
- 20170806 Vehicle belonging to AV town manager involved in hit-and-run
- He’s gonna need a good lawyer
- 20170809 Apple Valley official believes Liberty could have followed him before crash
- Public trust destroyed (Carloni)
- 20170907 Hit-and-run investigation involving Marc Puckett’s Cadillac sent to DA
- 20171010 Marc Puckett’s speeding ticket
- A question of character
- 20171206 Apple Valley Finance Director Marc Puckett charged with felony hit-and-run
- 20171206 A long wait for crash victim
- 20171117 A history of infractions
- 20171207 Apple Valley Finance Director Marc Puckett on personal leave after felony hit-and-run charge filed
- 20171214 Apple Valley Finance Director Marc Puckett pleads not guilty to felony hit-and-run charge
- 20171214 I-15 crash victim seeks $2M in damages from Apple Valley
- 20171219 Editorial: Passing the Puck (Valles)
- 20171228 Town Hall position not a factor in Puckett’s custody status, attorney says
- 20180105 Puckett forced out as Apple Valley’s Assistant Manager & Finance Director
- 20180109 Tin Cup Men (Valles)
- 20180116 Puckett’s dismissal just what the town needed (Valles)
- 20180307 Puckett deposition set for mid-April in town’s eminent domain case
- 20180425 Pre-plea report ordered in Puckett’s felony case