With the recent closing of the application period for Decatur’s vacant chief financial officer position, city officials disagree on how the interview and selection process for filling the position should proceed.

Internal candidate Kyle Demeester is one of seven candidates that Human Resources Director Richelle Sandlin recommended Monday at the Decatur City Council work session. She said a selection panel should hold initial interviews for the position.

The Daily obtained through an open records request a copy of the package presented to the council that includes her recommendations and resumes of the candidates the council should consider for panel interviews.

Sandlin said 26 people applied for the position left vacant by the recent retirement of John Andrzejewski.

She suggested a panel — consisting of Mayor Tab Bowling, City Attorney Herman Marks, Council President Jacob Ladner and herself — interview the first group and pick the top two or three candidates for a second interview by the City Council, department heads and Finance staff.

By including only one council member, the panel would avoid having to meet the state’s Open Meetings Act requirement that the interview be held in a public meeting if a majority of the council is present.

Councilman Billy Jackson opposes Sandlin’s suggested selection process. He said Sandlin, the mayor and the city attorney shouldn’t be involved in the process and Ladner “represents only one-fifth of the city. The mayor can participate in the interviews.”

Jackson said it’s the council’s job “as elected representatives of the people to set the process, select the applicants to interview and make the final choice.” He said Sandlin shouldn’t even select the top candidates to interview.

“That’s not her job,” Jackson said. “Her job is to accept the applications and present them to us.”

Sandlin said she made the recommendations based on best practices. She disagreed with Jackson, saying she, the mayor and city attorney should be involved in the selection of a CFO.

“You would think the leadership would want us to be involved to select a good, solid team,” Sandlin said.

Bowling said he “doesn’t make the rules” in the selection process, and the council can decide how to proceed.

Ladner said the city has a Human Resources Department and a director to help with the selection process.

“I don’t think there’s anything wrong with hearing who they think is highly qualified,” Ladner said. “I think we’ve got to trust that we’ve hired good people, and we did get a packet with information on every applicant.”

Jackson said they made a mistake when they excluded Andrzejewski even though they had time between when the application period ended before Christmas and his last day on Friday. They did not talk to him about the applicants, Andrzejewski confirmed Tuesday.

Jackson said it looked suspicious for the package describing the applicants to come out the day after Andrzejewski retired.

“That’s negligence,” Jackson said. “They had over a month to talk to someone who's very astute and really knows the job. He’s the one who knows what they need to look for, and what the red flags are.”

Sandlin said the holiday and employees taking vacation delayed presenting the package to the council.

“I don’t deal in conspiracies and I’m not going to comment,” Sandlin said.

Bowling said the holidays and COVID-19 kept him from talking to Andrzejewski about his potential successor, but some City Council members have talked to the former CFO.

“There will be a subject-matter expert involved,” Bowling said.

Ladner said he talked to Andrzejewski and he plans to continue talking to him as they work on selecting a CFO.

Councilman Carlton McMasters said in a text this is his first hire since taking office in November, and “I see where (Jackson is) coming from.

“On the flip side, I see no harm in council along with input from our HR professional ranking the applicants and deciding who we would like to interview. There were were candidates that I thought were qualified. Out of those (seven), I would like to interview three or four based on their resumes and municipal finance experience,” McMasters continued.

Sandlin asked the council members at the work session to review the package that includes her recommendations and the resumes she provided and tell her when they meet at 6 p.m. Monday how they want to proceed.

She said the seven are the candidates who meet the qualifications that they have a bachelor’s of science degree in accounting, finance, economics or a related field, supplemented by a graduate degree in governmental finance/accounting, auditing and/or public or business administration.

There is also an expectation of executive level experience, or “having demonstrated the skills/abilities suitable for a transition into executive leadership responsibilities in a municipal accounting discipline and municipal/governmental experience.”

The package Sandlin gave to the City Council also included eight candidates who have executive level management experience but no government or municipal experience.

The other 11 applicants did not meet minimum requirements and were not recommended for further consideration. 

The top seven applicants, as chosen by Sandlin, are:

• Tricia Arnold, currently in treasury product marketing and sales at Alabama Farm Credit. She twice worked at Alabama Farmers Cooperative in Decatur, and she was CFO at the Cullman City Board of Education.

• Vincent Davidson, owner of Davidson & Associates, Hoover. Davidson was chief accountant for the city of Birmingham from 2015 until April.

• Kyle Demeester, finance manager, city of Decatur. He joined the city in 2018 after working a year at Hexagon Safety and Infrastructure and six years with Warren Averett as an audit partner.

• David Fitzwater, assistant director of operations, West Virginia State Tax Department, Charleston, West Virginia, 2015 to December 2020. He previously worked as a professional accountant at Kanawha County Board of Education.

• Desmond Harris, CFO, St. Andrews Public Service District, Charleston, South Carolina, 2016-2019. His other government service includes senior financial accountant at Charleston County Housing and Redevelopment Authority

• Andrea Holmes, owner of Andrea S. Holmes CPA, Triangle, Virginia. Her government experience was three years with the U.S. Housing and Urban Development in Washington D.C. as a management analyst.

• Sylvester Lavender, vice president of finance and accounting, Markstein Consulting, Birmingham. His previous government work was as interim CEO after serving as director of finance, properties and parking for Birmingham Airport Authority from 2013 to 2019.

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bayne.hughes@decaturdaily.com or 256-340-2432. Twitter @DD_BayneHughes.

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