November 23, 2021
True Leaders Take Ownership
by: P.A.G.E. Cofounder Lydia Noble
I recently attended a local professional meeting for the first time to learn more about business dynamics in our community. Although I thoroughly enjoyed what I learned, I left this meeting shocked and dismayed when Mayor Blad volunteered to inform attendees (mostly local business leaders) that the City is attempting to hire a new Chief Financial Officer (CFO) now that the existing CFO has left. To paraphrase the Mayor—he is struggling to hire a new CFO “because of the Council.” Clearly implying that the current Pocatello City Council is hindering his ability to hire a new CFO.
Are attendees at these professional meetings gullible enough to believe such statements? I hope not. Please, Pocatello business community, do not believe everything you are told without investigating for yourselves.
In my opinion, the Mayor’s statement was completely inappropriate on several levels, especially because of his leadership position in our City. After 40 years in business, having attended hundreds of meetings, this blame-game is so inappropriate to me that it is impossible to believe anyone, let alone a Mayor, would think it permissible to state publicly—for what purpose? Especially since I have attended Pocatello City Council meetings for nearly two years and know there are many contributing factors and reasons why the Mayor is struggling to find, let alone hire, a new CFO.
First, things said in the heat of the moment are often regretted later. If you mistakenly still believe rumor and innuendo that “Council caused the CFO to leave” or that Council is making it difficult to hire a replacement, both are false. On June 16, 2021, in an on-line article in the “Pocatello/Chubbuck Observer,” the outgoing Pocatello CFO publicly clarified: “I have since had the opportunity to play back the recording of the meeting [when he resigned] and to talk with Council members Stevens and Bray and believe that the intentions of Council members Stevens, Bray and Ortega were not to impugn me or my work personally at that time or at any other time during my stay with the City of Pocatello;” he further stated “I now feel that the entire City Council at that time and before that time did not disregard my hard work and efforts on the budget. Additionally, I also feel that from the time I began working at Pocatello up to the time of the Thursday budget meeting that my efforts were appreciated by the entire City Council.”
Please hear the outgoing CFO comment about current City financial policies (need to be strengthened and add some accountability “teeth”) on the City website recording (see Agenda/Minutes Tab) of the 10/14/2021 Council Work Session at approx. 03:05:00.
Second, the Mayor stated at the meeting I attended that the City is “now” using a headhunter to fill the open CFO position. Not only should a serious search for a CFO have started in June, when our CFO first announced his resignation, but also it should have started with using headhunters and/or specialized online recruiters. Instead, according to the Mayor’s statements, standard City recruitment methods were used until now. This probably wasted valuable search time. NOTE: In my opinion, the City needs to target CFOs with specialized talents in resolving city financial issues. Yes, I believe Pocatello is facing financial difficulty despite the fact that current leadership is unwilling or unable to admit it.
In mid-January 2021, when the “then-incoming” CFO took over, please understand that this position had been unfilled for 3.5 months (since 10/01/2020). Unbelievable amounts of work needed to be caught-up, not to mention a crucial audit completed and a new budgeting cycle begun. Soon, the CFO began discovering a number of budgeting errors from the previous year requiring correction along with more errors discovered into June. In fact, according to the City, the FY2020 audit remains incomplete, likely due to those inherited issues. Add in the fact that the City had a sizeable FY2022 budget deficit—largely unaddressed and temporarily deferred by relying heavily upon one-time reserves—and you get a clearer picture of why many CFOs might not be up to dealing with the financial challenges facing Pocatello.
Third, mostly due to COVID, it is just not easy now to find qualified, experienced employees for many jobs. This isn’t the fault of City Council. It has been difficult to find experienced replacements for many jobs at the City. Why place blame on the Council, and for what purpose?
The Mayor basically and publicly “threw under the bus” the entire City Council for his own inability to recruit and hire a new CFO in a timely manner. I hope and believe local business leaders are wise enough to realize that “fault” is rarely found in a single reason. I have faith you will engage in critical thinking regarding such statements. Occasionally attending City Council meetings helps provide the bigger picture.
I believe strong leaders must be able to diffuse conflict, achieve compromise and/or build consensus within group settings—even difficult or contentious groups. Strong leaders take ownership and foresee the potential delays and pitfalls associated with replacing essential positions quickly. To me, the responsibility for Pocatello lacking a CFO right now (or even prospects for one) falls squarely on the Mayor’s inability to be proactive and think long-term. Not only did the Mayor fail to direct an immediate and aggressive search for a replacement CFO in June, he also failed to accept the generous offer of the outgoing CFO to remain in Pocatello until the end of November—an additional two weeks the City could have retained financial leadership. Based on these failures, the Mayor appears to me to prefer being a “victim of circumstance” rather than a Chief Executive Officer (CEO) managing a $130M+ municipal corporation.
This city “is” having financial difficulties and needs a qualified, very seasoned and experienced CFO sooner-than-later to get financial matters back on track. Mr. Mayor, you are the Pocatello CEO responsible for running the “business” of this City. The responsibility for ensuring that we have essential personnel, such as a CFO who is actively serving the needs of this City right now, is yours—not that of the City Council. Please take ownership of your responsibilities.