December 30, 2016 08:26PM
By DALE P. FAULKNER
Sun Staff Writer
WESTERLY — Town Manager Derrik M. Kennedy and Superintendent of Schools Roy Seitsinger Jr. defended the consolidation of municipal and school finances before the Charter Revision Commission Wednesday. The two top bosses said the merged Finance Department has reduced staffing levels and allowed for a productive dialogue between the town and the School Department.
At least one aspect of the consolidation — having a single finance director — is in violation of the Town Charter, which specifies one official for each entity. Members of the commission invited Kennedy and Seitsinger to discuss the consolidation to help them determine whether to recommend continuing with the arrangement.
The consolidation took effect in 2013 following voter approval in 2010.
According to Kennedy, who started his position in October, there has been a reduction of three full-time equivalent positions in the Finance Department since the consolidation occurred. The department now consists of the finance director, deputy finance director, a payroll coordinator, an accountant, a purchasing agent, 1.5 accountant assistants, and two account payable clerks.
Efficiencies have been realized through cross-training employees so that they are now familiar with both municipal and school functions.
James Angelo, a member of the commission, said he found the arrangement awkward.
“I don’t know of any organization that has somebody report to two different people separately with two different interests involved,” he said.
Seitsinger said having a single finance director has not produced tension between the organizations.
“It hasn’t presented itself as a conflict of interest. Mr. Kennedy and myself are of a mind that we have one purpose — Westerly ... I see it as a single purpose agreement for the elevation and support and the positive nature of Westerly as a community,” Seitsinger said.
The town manager and superintendent of schools are both responsible for interviewing and selecting finance director candidates. They also conduct performance reviews and are responsible for termination when necessary, Kennedy and Seitsinger said. The system works well here, as it has in other communities where he has served, Kennedy said.
“I have yet to work in a municipality where this has been a problem. I can honestly say that, to date, any time I ask for something it gets done by the time I need it and to the quality that I need it,” Kennedy said.
Kennedy recently asked municipal department heads to share their opinions of the consolidation and to speak with staff members about it. Kennedy said two concerns were raised. The first concern involved a sense that department heads would prefer that the finance director maintain office hours in Town Hall.
The original plan called for the finance director to split time between school and municipal offices, but limitations in the municipal computer system made it necessary that the director work only in the school offices, Kennedy said. Many of the technology problems have been addressed and the finance director will soon begin working in Town Hall at least two days per week, Kennedy said.
The second concern, regarding purchase orders, has been blamed on the finance director but is actually a result of changes Kennedy made to the municipal system.
“I’m the one that’s driving some of the frustration on that because I’m changing the way it’s always been done,” Kennedy said.
The new purchasing order system continues to evolve and should be faster once it is conducted electronically, Kennedy said.
Returning to separate departments would likely result in a need for both sides to hire additional personnel, causing budget increases for both the municipality and the school department, Kennedy said.
Commission member Nina Rossomando said there is at least one benefit to having a single finance department.
“One positive of consolidation is you have to talk more. I see that as a good thing,” Rossomando said to Kennedy and Seitsinger.
After the meeting, Kennedy said municipal and school operations are running efficiently under the consolidated departments. “I inherited most of the staff ... I am satisfied with the work product,” Kennedy said.
Seitsinger, who participated in the studies and discussions that preceded the consolidation, said the system is “working as intended and as designed.” He acknowledged that state law requires a finance official who is certified by the state Department of Education. The local department’s deputy finance director holds the required certification, he said.