Finance director Konkel to leave the city

As a result, in part, of his mid-term financial report 10 days ago, Elray Konkel’s six-year term as the city’s finance director ended Friday.

Konkel and interim City Manager Brenda Bauer are characterizing the termination as a mutual agreement, but Konkel brought up the point a day after he was asked to leave that he was an “at-will” employee – meaning he could be relieved of his job without cause.

Konkel may have already been on the hot seat, but there were strong indications he might be asked to step down from the position after his mid-term financial report was heavily criticized by the majority of the City Council on Aug. 4. The council was upset after Konkel said there would be only $78,499 in working capital at the end of 2010 instead of a projected $1 million after the council trimmed $1.4 million from the budget last March.

Bauer, who makes all personnel decisions under the city’s council-manager form of government, was unavailable for comment Tuesday after she informed council members and others by email that Konkel was leaving the city at the end of this week. The email said:

“I want to let you know about significant transitions in the organization. As of Friday, our Finance Director Elray Konkel will be leaving for new adventures. Elray will have been with the city for six years, and during that time, he worked with staff to improve our financial management and implement more progressive systems. Please thank Elray for his many years of city and public service.

“We will be working with the managers and staff in finance to help with the gap as we look to fill this critical position, and I ask that you offer them your patience and assistance. Thank you to Elray for his many years and to all of you who are working to help us be successful.”

Bauer, who has been city manager since early June, said she was unavailable for comment Tuesday because she was in meetings all day. When asked about the action before Wednesday’s council meeting, she said, “I’d prefer not talking about personnel matters.”

Konkel said Tuesday that when he and Bauer met the day before that it was her decision that it was time for the city to move on with a different finance director.

“It was actually a mutual agreement,” he said. “We agreed that it would be better for the organization that I not be the finance director any longer.”

When asked Tuesday about the council’s criticism during the Aug. 4 meeting, Konkel said he still thought there was a misunderstanding about money. During the meeting he had said:

“The initial goal was to pay the bills ... and that’s what we got for all those cuts. Again, I’ll take the blame if I presented it ($1.4 million) as cash net of accrued liabilities.”

Bauer had defended Konkel at the meeting, saying it appeared to be a misunderstanding and “definition problem” since the goal of the cuts in March was to put $1 million back into budget so the city could stay solvent this year.

When asked if the council’s disappointment with the report had anything to do with him leaving the city, Konkel said: “That was more of a reflection of what’s been going on in the city financially than a specific reason as why I’m no longer going to be the finance director.”

Mayor Bob Scales said he wasn’t surprised by Bauer’s action, adding that it was made entirely by Bauer.

“Personnel decisions are made by the city manager, not the council,” Scales said. “That’s not mine to make.”

He added that Bauer was as well informed as possible for someone a little more than two months on the job and that she had asked for a lot of council input since being hired.

He indicated, however, that the council’s unhappiness with Konkel’s mid-term financial report last week likely wasn’t lost on her.

“It was clear to everyone that that City Council was surprised and not happy with the numbers presented to us since we were told in March if we cut $1.4 million from the budget that we’d have a million dollars in working capital at the end of the year (2010). And then the finance director told us that we would have less than $100,000 in there,” Scales said.

He said that he’s most concerned now about beginning the process of putting together a two-year budget without a finance director.

“The important issue now is that this is a most critical time for the city and the administration to get ready to present the budget,” he said. “We have to talk during tomorrow’s (Wednesday) meeting about how we’re going to move forward without a finance director. The council may have to play a larger role in the early part of the process, cooperating and collaborating and understanding the limits of the administration without a finance director.”

Because of budget cuts, the city no longer has a deputy finance director; it currently has two finance managers.

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