Fort Smith administrator working to fill three key city posts

by Tina Alvey Dale ([email protected]) 1,230 views 

The Fort Smith Board of Directors on Tuesday (July 23) approved naming Lori Hopkins, the city’s finance manager, as the city treasurer until a new finance director is named.

With the resignation of Jennifer Walker as finance director effective July 26, the city will not have a treasurer. By city ordinance, the Fort Smith finance director serves as the city treasurer.

“Section 2-137 of the Fort Smith Municipal Code requires that the finance director be officially designated as city treasurer. The city treasurer has responsibility to administer the financial affairs of the city. As we will have a vacancy in the Finance Director position, and an Interim Finance Director has not yet been identified, Lori Hopkins has agreed to serve in the capacity as city treasurer until such time as an Interim Finance Director is named,” said Jeff Dingman, deputy city administrator, in a memo to City Administrator Cark Geffken dated July 23.

“Ms. Hopkins will not be named the interim finance director, but she has agreed to take on this role for now. Basically, we need another person to sign the checks besides myself,” Geffken told the board, who unanimously voted for an ordinance stating the city code will be temporarily amended so the city treasurer can be appointed by Geffken. They also approved the appointment of Hopkins to that temporary role.

“This is temporary while a search for an interim and permanent finance director is conducted,” Geffken said. “After that position is filled, we will come back to you, and you (the board) will need to change the ordinance again so the finance director will once again be the city treasurer.”

Geffken told Talk Business & Politics that the finance director job notification has been on the Strategic Government Resources (SGR) website for almost a week. The website states the first review of applicants will be Aug. 19. There is also a nationwide search underway for an interim finance director, Geffken said.

“We have placed an ad for interim finance director to look for local candidates. We are also working with recruiting firms who supply interim candidates,” he said.

At best a nationwide search for the finance director will take three months, Geffken said, adding that if the candidate chosen lives out of the area, it will take another month or two to relocate them to Fort Smith.

“It’ll take about six months (to find someone), and we need someone now (in the interim) who is experienced and can help our current staff move forward while at the same time managing all aspects of the finance department,” he said.

Along with needing to replace the finance director, Fort Smith needs to fill the director of planning and development position left vacant when Wally Bailey retired in mid-June after 41 years with the city. Brenda Andrews is serving as the interim director until a new hire is made. That position will be posted soon, Geffken said.

“We will be doing a nationwide search … . So we will post in all the locations that are appropriate. That includes applicable job boards,” Geffken said.

He also said the position will go on the SGR job board, as well as the ICMA, “the world’s leading association of professional city and county managers and other employees who serve local governments,” website and will be advertised through the Arkansas Municipal League and other nationwide planning organizations.

Suggesting things really do happen in threes, Fort Smith also is searching for the right person to fill the chief of police position left vacant when Chief Nathaniel Clark resigned to take a position in the Atlanta metro area. Danny Baker, an 18-year veteran of the FSPD, was named the interim chief following former Clark’s resignation, which was effective April 8. A nationwide search is being conducted to fill the position.

Geffken said the city administration is looking over the pool of candidates for the chief of police position and “beginning to whittle them down to those we are seriously interested in learning more about as potential police chiefs.” Geffken said there are many people who have expressed their opinion that Baker would be the best candidate for the position.

“Chief Baker has done an excellent job. However, like all critical senior executive positions in the City of Fort Smith, the city deserves the best candidate to be appointed, and that can only be done through a nationwide search,” he said.

As the city administrator, Geffken has the authority to appoint the three positions without approval of the board of directors. However, once a finance director is hired, the board will have to name that person the city treasurer as well.