Cranford works to get out of financial hole

CRANFORD – The ongoing state of the township’s financial affairs continues to be a thorn in the side of the governing body, but it could take some time before everything is straightened out.

The township’s financial issues, while complex, have little to do with a lack of funds, but rather with the fact that some problems go back 20 years.

Recently, Acting Chief Financial Officer Ken DeRoberts and Assistant CFO Lavona Patterson explained to committee members that progress has been slow in straightening out the mess because they have spent time dealing with current problems. This leaves little time to address the mountains of financial issues that led to the townships current financial status.

DeRoberts, of Government Strategy Group, was hired in March to clean up the financial confusion and restore the township to its previous AAA rating. However, that has not been an easy chore. Even after Patterson was brought aboard to help, it was difficult to straighten out problems that took years to evolve.

DeRobert’s told the governing body at a workshop meeting that his goal was to get the township back on secure footing, which includes a AAA rating, “where it should be.”

Another problem facing these two financial professionals is the heavy daily responsibilities that must be addressed.
Whether transactions were incorrectly put down in ledgers or merely formatted in a way that is not acceptable by municipal auditor standards, the question now is not pointing fingers but rather getting to the bottom of each financial problem and rectifying it, DeRoberts said.

Building an in-house finance department from the bottom up, though, takes time. The way things used to be done is changing. Previously the township employees did not use purchase orders before making purchases, but now even Mayor Tom Hannen said vendors will need a signed purchase order to get paid.

At the crux of the financial dilemma is the fact there has not been a permanent employee in the position for very long since former township financial director Tom Grady retired in 2010. He held the position for 20 years and in many ways was the keeper of the financial books that are in question now.

While no issues of malfeasance has been found, sources indicated that the main issue is that no one has consistently been in charge of this department since 2010, which left things in a financial mess.

After Grady left, the township hired Jeff Theriault who was let go less than a year later. After that former township administrator Marlena Schmid took over the role of CFO in addition to her other duties. While she had the credentials to do the job and even received a generous stipend for this additional charge, things continued to slip through the cracks financially. When she was let go as administrator after 11 years, the township scrambled to right its financial ship, but things had deteriorated to the point that a consultant with vast experience in this area had to be brought in to try and rectify the problems.

The mayor has continued to point out that the township has to bring enough staff aboard to handle the job, but his main concern was how long it would take to restore the township to solid financial footing.

Although DeRoberts felt a quick fix was not possible, he did agree that the long list of financial issues yet to be addressed could be slashed by 75 percent in a matter of months.

“We’re dying to get this stuff cleaned up and get the operational things behind us,” the financial consultant told the governing body.
Hannen, who will be the lone Democratic member on the committee come Jan. 1, has only a matter of weeks to wrap up goals he set a year ago when he stepped into the role of mayor after being elected a few short months before. The township’s financial issues were one of those goals.

Sources have indicated that Republican Andy Kalnins will likely be selected as the new mayor in January.