CITY FINANCE | Interim Director Departure Extends Finance Department Challenges

According to a staff report. “The city manager plans to embark on a permanent finance director recruitment in the next few months, after the completion and adoption of the annual budget.”

PHOTO: Esteban Lopez | SouthPasadenan.com News | South Pasadena City Hall

South Pasadena Interim Finance Director Maida Alcantara, who has served in that position for only three months, unexpectedly left the job late last month, the City acknowledged late Friday. Alcantara, the third interim to serve during the City’s two-and-half year search for a permanent director, is a former California municipal employee who works for MV Cheng & Associates, a contracting firm the City hired last year to provide temporary finance services.

On Wednesday, the city council will be asked to approve a $199,500 amendment to the MV Cheng contract to cover the cost of extended temporary staffing services. These will include putting in place John Downs as the new interim finance director and Ken McDonald as a part time special projects senior analyst. Both men have nearly 30 years of relevant experience, the City said.

Downs previously applied for the permanent position.

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The amendment will bring the total value of the MV Cheng contract to $344 000, though the city said it may ultimately realize a net saving due to the ongoing vacancy in the permanent position, the salary for which is already in the budget.

In addition, the City “is working to bring in a high-level finance advisor under the city manager’s authority to assist with high-level consulting, strategizing and planning for the department,” according to a staff report. “The city manager plans to embark on a permanent finance director recruitment in the next few months, after the completion and adoption of the annual budget.” The City’s fiscal year begins July 1.

Nevertheless, “I am confident we will have a permanent finance director soon,” Mayor Jon Primuth told the South Pasadenan.

Trouble establishing stability in the Finance Department has been one of the biggest challenges for City Manager Arminé Chaparyan, who joined the city in June 2021 and is slated for a performance evaluation during the Council’s closed session Wednesday. However, the trend precedes her tenure: South Pasadena cycled through at least four acting, interim or permanent finance directors during the three years prior to her arrival.

The reasons for Alcantara’s departure were unclear, but reports surfaced over Christmas that she withdrew from the assignment shortly after being asked to complete an assessment of the Finance Department, which has been recovering from what the mayor has called a financial reporting crisis. “The work of the interim was fruitful and made strides in [her] short time, but [she has] decided to step down from the role for personal reasons,” the city said in a staff report.

“A current finance department assessment/overview was started by our former interim director in conjunction with management staff [and] will be finalized and brought forth to the City Council…in the next two months,” Chaparyan told the South Pasadenan in email, adding that the assessment will be done inhouse.

Former Finance Director Josh Betta has pushed the city to ensure the assessment includes meaningful consideration of various reports that presaged the 2020 financial reporting crisis, in particular the so-called CityGate report, from which he believes the City has tried to distance itself. He has also strongly encouraged the City to outsource the Finance Department assessment.

The City Manager has undertaken assessments of 10 city departments or divisions. Some have been or will be completed by outside contractors, like the one the Council is slated to approve Wednesday for the police department, while others are being completed internally.

 


Ben Tansey is a journalist and author. He grew up in the South Bay and is a graduate of Evergreen State College. He worked in Washington State as a reporter in a rural timber community and for many years as an editor for a Western electric energy policy publication based in Seattle. He and his wife Karin, an arts administrator from El Sereno, live in South Pasadena.