Heidi Meade is an accountant in the town Finance Department, but she is also a key player at budget time and someone who has put in long hours on the switch to the new Munis fiscal management system. Whenever Finance Dir. Carl Tomchik has been away, Meade is the one who leads the department.
Several town officials want to create a Deputy Finance Director position for Meade, who they see as the logical successor for Tomchik. But the majority of Town Council members believe the new position should have been proposed during the last budget process — not months afterward.
Meade holds a union accountant position and Local 818 of Council 4 AFSCME came to an agreement with the town and Meade Monday night to release her from the union, so she could accept the Deputy Director of Finance/Deputy Comptroller position.
When Town Councilman Nick Kapoor made a motion to approve the new position pending approval of the memorandum agreement with the union, Councilman J.P. Sredzinski expressed concerns over the timing.
"If it's approved after the budget process, I feel it would appear to be expanding the Finance Department and hiding it from the voters," Sredzinski said, stressing that his position has to do with the procedure and nothing to do with Meade's job performance.
After spirited debate, the Town Council defeated the motion 5-4, with Chairwoman Enid Lipeles, Kapoor, Dee Dee Martin and Raymond Knapp voting in favor and Vice Chairwoman Deborah Heim, Sredzinski, Frank Lieto, Debra Dutches and Tony Unger voting against it.
Plan for the Future
Board of Finance Vice Chairman Michael Manjos expressed strong support for making Heidi Meade deputy director of the Finance Department in a letter read into the record by Lipeles.
In his letter, Manjos wrote:
Any organization must properly plan for the future. Proper planning will ensure a smooth transition and ensure that knowledge and experience is transferred from one employee to the successor. We have a very experienced and talented Director of Finance and we want to make sure of a smooth transition when he decides to retire.
Heidi had been our staff accountant for many years. She has a strong accounting background and has a strong working knowledge of municipal accounting and has patience and understanding. She has the ability to work with many different personalities and is well respected by all.
Manjos spoke of establishing financial guidelines and structured policies for the town, which will remain in place as people come and go. He wrote:
In order to accomplish these goals we will need to develop and compensate talented people to keep continuity in the office and to improve our processes. I believe we could open this process up and interview scores of people, but we are not looking to expand staff, just to develop the talent we already have. Even if I could find a qualified candidate on paper, they would not be able to replicate the experience in Town Hall and the work ethic we have with Heidi.
'In a Dark Place'
First Selectman Steve Vavrek said there was an intent to come before the council to create the Deputy Finance Director position for "a couple months", but explained that union issues were not resolved until earlier Monday night.
"This is one of the most important people in town other than Carl in the budget process," he said. "I think it would be a grave mistake not to approve this position."
Sredzinski expressed confidence in Meade as a valuable member of the town staff, but reiterated his stance against approving a new position after the operating budget has already been adopted.
Lieto praised Meade for her responsiveness in answering questions during budget time. But he said approving a new position now would show a "lack of transparency to the public."
"I hope this comes up at budget time, which is just around the corner," Lieto said.
Vavrek expressed his belief that the town will be in trouble if Meade leaves town hall for another job.
"We're going to be in a dark place because we literally have no back up and it has to get done tonight," he said. "I'm really hoping we get the votes to pass this thing."
Kapoor said he understood the concern over the timing of creating a new position, but the Democratic Town Committee chairman added with a little levity, "As much as this tastes like vinegar coming out of my mouth, I have to agree with Mr. Vavrek. I hope this passes for the benefit of the town."
Dutches said there should be a resolution making such requests include the funding information.
Unger said the proposed position would be giving someone already giving 100 percent, 30 percent more responsibility. "Something has to give," Unger said.
Sredzinski said, "I don't want to see that knowledge and experience go out the door, but we have that risk with every good employee. We're really not losing anything. We're just creating a new position."
During the last public session, Steve Schapiro criticized the town for poor budgeting and said the first selectman failed to step up to the plate and propose creation of the Deputy Finance Director position during the last budget cycle.
Then Vavrek reiterated his argument that the union issue held it up.
After the meeting, Kapoor said, "Even though the first selectman didn't address this position in his budget, I feel that Ms. Meade's increase in duties and salary would benefit the short term and long term plans for the town of Monroe."