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City searches for qualified Comptroller

Comptroller: What is it, who qualifies, and what is the City looking for in their search for a new one?

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In December of 2012, Donijo Dejonge resigned as the City Comptroller after voters denied her proposal that would change the elected position to a hired one. Since then, the city has been looking to fill the position for the new term. Last week the City of Grand Rapids extended the application process for the City Comptroller Position to March 25.

"[Her resignation] threw a charter obligation on the Grand Rapids City Commision to choose by appointment a successor until the next city election," said Mayor George Heartwell about the Comptroller on the most recent airing of City Connection.

The Comptroller surveys tax dollar expenditures, ensuring that the funds are being used in the most optimal and financially responsible manner. As a kind of department director, the Comptroller works with 15 city employees working to provide monthly budget reports, issuing checks for City bills and payroll and creating detailed records on city funds. 

"This position has been referred to as a financial watchdog for the city," says City Clerk Lauri Parks.

"It [the charter] does not set qualifications for that office except being of legal age and a resident of Grand Rapids," says Heartwell.

Although more qualifications are not required, City Guidelines do recommend that applicants have a good understanding of public fund accounting and other accounting practices. The City recommends knowing the City laws and regulations in regards to public accounting and financial affairs. Applicants are also encouraged to possess a Bachelor's Degree in accounting or business and six years of experience. Preferably, this experience includes years as a professional accountant with some supervising roles.

"They [the Comptroller] are elected," Parks says, "and have a little more independence than a staff person that works for the city manager or the city commission. This is a unique position to Michigan."

Although an ammendment was posed by previous Comptroller DeJonge to make the position an elected one, voters denied the proposal.

"The Commission wished it otherwise, but that's how the citizens feel," says Heartwell.

Since the posting, three applicants have applied for the position, but one resigned after failing to meet compliance with city tax ordinances. The other two applicants were interviewed on April 2 by the City Commission.

"Two fine upstanding individuals," says Heartwell, "but we were so intent on finding someone with stronger credentials, specifically a CPA."

One applicant has caught the city's attention, despite the lack of desired credentials. Instead of a CPA, the applicant possesses a degree in law and experience working in financial management and banking.

"We’ll interview her and on April 9, the commission will make a decisioin as to which of the three contenders we will appoint, " says Heartwell.

The new Comptroller will have to hit the ground running, says Heartwell. Along with learning a new job and office, he or she will also be immediately gearing up to run in the regularly scheduled office elections. 

"The City Commission is looking to appoint someone right now, and if others are interested in running for this elected office they can apply potentially running in the primary, in August and or the November election," says Parks.

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