Finance director leaving city amid budget controversy

The Bainbridge city finance director is leaving his post after it was revealed last week that the city’s savings account is nearly empty.

Elray Konkel, who has worked as the city’s finance director for six years, said he and the city manager determined on Monday that it would be best for the city that he leave. His last day will be Friday.

Konkel drew the City Council’s ire last week when it was disclosed that the $1 million in cuts the council made earlier this year was not put into a savings reserve as the council had ordered. Instead, most of the money was spent on the city’s day-to-day operations.

Konkel promptly accepted responsibility for the mistake, which he attributed to miscommunication between himself and the council.

“I’m still trying to ascertain what (the council) believed was to be the affect of the million dollar change,” he said. “But what difference does it make? If (the savings reserve) is what the council believed was happening, that’s what should have happened.”

Mayor Bob Scales, who recently reviewed videos of meetings in which the reserve was discussed, said the council’s orders were “very clear.”

“It’s hard to determine how there could have been any misunderstanding of what the council meant,” he said.

Had council members better understood of the city’s financial situation, they likely would have cut almost $2 million to both pay the bills and put $1 million in the bank, Councilwoman Kirsten Hytopoulos said.

Scales said Konkel and the administration failed to accurately portray the city’s financial situation and carry out the council’s wishes.

He and other council members were shocked to learn the $1 million reserve they were expecting would be closer to $78,500 by the end of the year.

Konkel said this week that the accounting error was “part” of the reason Interim City Manager Brenda Bauer initiated a discussion about him leaving the city. He declined to give further details and did not respond directly to the question of whether he was fired.

“It was Brenda and my decision that my leaving would be best for the organization at this moment and in the future,” Konkel said.

Bauer did not return calls for comment.

Councilman Barry Peters commended Konkel for his six years of service to the city, and for getting the city’s finances in order.

“He took over the city’s finances at a time when the city was failing to submit accurate audits or submit them on time,” Peters said. “Elray brought the city’s finances into line.”

Peters declined to comment on Konkel’s departure, but did express concern that the city was entering a biennial budget process without a finance director.

“It’s important we have a finance director to provide the kinds of support the city manager is going to need,” he said. “I hope we find a person like that.”

While Scales also declined to comment about Konkel’s departure directly, he indicated the council needs a finance director they can trust to carry out its directions, especially during the upcoming budget process, which is likely to require substantial cuts.

“The council was in shock when we saw the (savings reserve) money. Over five months, we went from $1 million to $78,000,” he said. “Obviously, that’s a problem we need to solve before we start the budget process.”

Konkel said he has no immediate plans other than to take a month or two to reassess his career options.

He has “nothing but the greatest respect” for Bauer and other city employees, he said.

“I’m certainly going to miss the whole crew,” he said.

Konkel was sometimes at odds with the council. He has said in the past that some council members were disrespectful of staff and placed high expectations on them while withholding the necessary resources to accomplish their increasingly demanding jobs. He threatened to quit in 2006 but agreed to stay with the city when council members pledged to take his concerns more seriously.

The deputy finance director resigned two years ago, citing concerns similar to Konkel.

Konkel’s departure follows recent exits from other top staff members. A city manager, city engineer, police chief and a longtime public works director resigned last year. The deputy finance director, city administrator and planning director resigned in 2008.

2 thoughts on “Finance director leaving city amid budget controversy

  1. It appears Konkel’s only flaw is his inability to communicate well. I put all the blame for the latest financial debacle on the council. If someone told me to cut the budget by a million in order to generate working capital I would take that as an order to tighten things up so bills could be paid. That’s what working capital is. Good luck finding someone to replace Elray!

  2. I don’t think poor communication skills were his only flaw. OTOH he was great at hiding huge shortfalls from the council.

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