It’s only February, but Killeen has already started the lengthy process of crafting an annual municipal budget.
But this year, the city is doing so without a finance director.
The previous director, Barbara Gonzales, was terminated along with another employee in December following a two-month internal investigation. A third employee retired and a fourth resigned.
Gonzales, a 14-year city employee, requested a hearing to appeal her termination. However, that hearing has yet to be scheduled — and therein lies the problem.
Until there is a resolution to Gonzales’ hearing, the city can’t post the job opening and begin the hiring process. That only makes sense. As long as the appeal process is ongoing, the finance director’s job is technically still filled.
Meanwhile, the department is short-staffed as it begins preparing the municipal budget.
From 1990 to 1995, Gonzales worked under former City Manager Connie Green when he was Killeen’s finance director. She left Killeen to work as Copperas Cove’s finance director for two years, then worked as comptroller and interim business manager for the Belton Independent School District.
Gonzales returned to Killeen in 2003 as the city’s general services director before Green named her to the finance director’s position in 2007.
When Green quit the city manager’s post in March 2011 amid a controversial $750,000 buyout by the Killeen City Council, Gonzales was left to guide the city through the annual budget process, along with City Manager Glenn Morrison, who was in an interim role at the time.
That job was largely Gonzales’ responsibility again last year, with the council adopting a $243 million budget a few weeks before she was placed on leave.
But now, with Gonzales gone, the city will have to make do with the remaining staffers as the budget process moves forward — at least until a new finance director can be hired.
With that in mind, the city should move quickly to schedule Gonzales’ appeal hearing.
Obviously, several factors come into play, such as finding a convenient time and date for the city staff, attorneys and members of the city’s Civilian Personnel Hearing Board.
Also, it’s possible the city is open to negotiating a settlement, especially since the hearing will be held in public and could get contentious at times.
But considering Gonzales has been in limbo since she was first put on leave in October, the city should not drag this out any longer than necessary.
Gonzales deserves a prompt resolution to her appeal, so both she and the city can move on.
It’s also important that the appeal be scheduled soon, so that all facts pertinent to the investigation be put before the public and the council in a timely manner.
Over the past few weeks, considerable discussion has taken place among council members as to whether the next finance director should be a certified public accountant — which Gonzales was not, but the current assistant finance director is.
This is something that must be addressed by Morrison and the council moving forward. If being a CPA is what is required, it can be part of the job description when the position is advertised.
But it would be wrong to use the lack of CPA certification as a justification for the removal of the previous finance director, when that should have had nothing to do with her termination.
Clearly defining the finance director’s role and how it fits into the management structure Morrison has put in place will help determine who is ultimately hired for the job.
And if the city manager believes the current finance staff can efficiently navigate the budget process without a finance director, perhaps he should reconsider the cost-effectiveness of filling the $100,000 position.
Either way, it’s time to take the next step.