County finance director needed, councilman says

EVERETT — For the past year, Snohomish County has gone without a position required by its own code: a finance director.

Depending on whom you ask, that’s either a gross lack of oversight or a mere technicality.

The County Council is set to take up the issue soon, as they approach what’s bound to be a challenging budget season.

“I’m really worried about it,” County Councilman Ken Klein said. “It’s not just the legal aspect, but for good business practices.”

County Executive John Lovick maintains that his administration has qualified managers in place to watch over county money, whether or not anyone’s wearing the finance director’s hat.

The county code spells out the role of the finance department. It specifies that “the director shall be appointed by the executive subject to confirmation by the county council.”

After Lovick took office last year, long-time county finance director Roger Neumaier resigned to take another job.

Lovick’s administration didn’t formally appoint anyone to the top finance post. Instead, Lovick’s second-in-command, Mark Ericks, assumed some of Neumaier’s responsibilities, sharing them with two upper-level finance employees.

“Unfortunately, due to budget constraints and a number of circumstances beyond our control, we were unable to fill that position as planned,” Lovick wrote last week in a letter to the council.

Klein earlier this year raised concerns about the absence of a finance director, citing sections of the county’s code and charter.

County prosecutors say he’s right — the job needs to be filled.

To comply, Lovick’s office is proposing to name another top manager to the office as a temporary finance chief.

Lenda Crawford, an executive director hired in mid-April, manages Paine Field, the Public Works Department, human resources, and the office of public defense. She’s already guiding efforts to draft the county budget for 2015. Under the executive’s proposal, Crawford would be named temporary finance director until a permanent hire is made, perhaps some time next year.

“Lenda Crawford came to us with background in finance,” said Gary Haakenson, another top manager in Lovick’s administration. “We look forward to her to filling that position for us on a temporary basis.”

Before joining Snohomish County, Crawford was the deputy director of Seattle’s Department of Transportation, where her responsibilities included finance, human resources, information technology, risk management and more. Before Seattle, Crawford worked for 21 years in the city of Redmond as finance director and deputy director. She has an MBA with a major in finance and is a licensed CPA.

The administration will revisit hiring a permanent finance director next year, Lovick wrote.

Klein said he’s OK with handing Crawford the job on a temporary basis, but would feel more comfortable with a person whose energies are devoted full-time to the job.

The councilman is worried about the way he sees the county managing this year’s $228.5 million operating budget.

Work is under way now to craft a proposed budget for 2015, which Lovick will unveil in early fall.

The costs of responding to the Oso disaster, related legal actions, staffing shortages at the county jail and more promise to weigh on county finances in the year ahead. Klein said early estimates show that the county’s cash reserves could drop by millions, potentially threatening to hurt the county’s credit rating and drive up borrowing costs.

“Everybody knows it’s going to be bad,” he said.

Noah Haglund: 425-339-3465, nhaglund@heraldnet.com.

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