Detroit gets new CFO amid call for transparency

Christine Ferretti
The Detroit News

Detroit — The City Council on Tuesday unanimously confirmed the appointment of a new chief financial officer, but not without a warning from Council President Brenda Jones about the need for transparency in post-bankrupt Detroit.

Under executive orders of Detroit’s prior emergency manager, John Hill is empowered to initiate a reorganization of the Finance Department that could result in job loss for some city workers.

Jones says she wants assurances that efforts will be made to retain and train employees and that they won’t just be pushed out. She’s also asking that contracts Hill is authorized to approve without council input are shared with the panel for the sake of openness.

“I know that we are no longer in business-as-usual cycle, however you still have employees and employees who should be treated fair when it comes to a job change,” Jones told The Detroit News. “Employees should be able to be given the ability to do the job. As opposed to just ‘I’m booting you out because I feel that you can’t come up to our standards.’ Who will be measuring those standards?

“Until someone can tell me what tools they are going to give these employees to do the positions that they have been doing for I don’t know how many years, I’m not satisfied with it,” Jones added.

Prior to his official appointment, Hill had been serving in the role for the last year to aid Detroit through a successful exit to the largest municipal bankruptcy in the history of the nation. The appointment must now gain the approval of Detroit’s Financial Review Commission.

The Finance Department restructuring is factored in to the city’s court-approved plan to slash its debt by $7 billion. The human resources, information technology and planning and development departments also will have the ability to do so, he said.

Under Kevyn Orr’s Emergency Manager Order No. 41, Hill, who is compensated $225,000 a year, has oversight of all finance, budget and grant-related functions of the city. Hill can modify job titles, roles, responsibilities and positions in support of the city’s finance and budgeting functions, as well as set compensations and salaries.

The order was designed to ensure the city’s financial well-being and authorized after the Michigan Legislature approved a bill package that requires the appointment of a CFO for any city with a population over 600,000, such as Detroit, to supervise financial and budget activities.

Hill said some of the approximately 380 employees could lose positions under the new configuration, but he’s encouraging staffers to find positions that they are qualified for and to apply for those spots. The jobs will also be posted externally, he said.

Positions and salary ranges are still being compiled but should be ready within a couple weeks. Hill must then sign off on it before it goes to Mayor Mike Duggan for review.

It is Hill’s hope that the majority of current employees will automatically have the skills necessary for the new jobs and that a number of others could be trained.

Hill told the council that the jobs have to be reconfigured. The current staff, he said, operates in a “tangled web of disjointed, misaligned systems” that produce unreliable and in some cases, unverifiable information.

The new office structure, he said, will “create an operational environment of financial accountability and integrity, and will promote the long-term financial recovery of the city and the health, safety and welfare of the public.”