San Marino Makes Finance Director Permanent

At the recommendation of Marcella Marlowe and with the concurrence of the City Council, San Marino is moving forward with Josh Betta as its full-time finance director.
Removing “interim” from Betta’s job title marks the first time in nearly two years City Hall has employed a full-time finance director on staff, having made due with contracted services before Betta was brought in initially as an interim placeholder shortly before Marlowe’s hire in October.
“That went on for a relatively long period of time,” Marlowe said, referring to the vacancy. “I would say that over the last six months since I started, Mr. Betta has proven himself to be extremely insightful and transparent about our financial standing.
“He is an excellent, proactive teacher for staff and, I hope, the council and the community, and he is committed to the San Marino team,” she added. “He has a lot of energy. He is enthusiastic about changes and he is open to moving us in whatever direction we need to go in.”
Betta, whose 30-plus-year career in public sector finance includes work for eight municipalities, has spent his time in San Marino routinely apprising the City Council, often bluntly, of accounting errors or improprieties he uncovers. Marlowe highlighted his work for the city of Bell and Central Basin Municipal Water Districts as evidence for his ability and willingness to help turn around dire financial operations.
Since being contracted in August and hired as a part-time interim employee in October, Betta’s presence also represents the first time since July 2016 that there has been a daily employee running the city’s financial operations, which were notably identified as a weakness and liability exposure by an ad hoc committee that analyzed City Hall’s operational and financial procedures.
Although the City Council ultimately voted 4-1 in concurrence with Marlowe (Vice Mayor Dr. Steven Huang dissented), they did express discomfort with there not being a third recruitment attempt, particularly after it decided to change Betta’s job title last month from “administrative services director” back to finance director.
Councilman Ken Ude, a career businessman, said he appreciated Betta’s straightforward ability to explain how things were different in the public sector. Still, Ude said he would have preferred a recruitment effort even just for accountability’s sake.
“I think this is the most critical hire you have,” Ude said. “I think I would have had a search just to prove that there was nobody else out there.”
Huang, who stressed that his vote against the hire was strictly out of principal for there not being a recruitment process, said he agreed with Betta being a good fit for the job.
“This has nothing to do with Josh,” Huang said. “It’s just for the sake of transparency.”
Marlowe, defending her recommendation, hinted at the finance department’s well-documented struggles Wednesday, reminding the City Council that the city had experienced two failed recruitments for full-time hires prior to contracting with Betta.
“For me, the two failed recruitments spoke volumes,” she said. “I actually talked a little bit about that during my interview process.
“This is probably not the right place to go into those reasons, but I don’t think we would be successful if we tried a recruitment again,” Marlowe added.
Betta’s hiring had full and wholehearted support from councilwomen Susan Jakubowski and Gretchen Shepherd Romey.
“He’s been wonderful to work with,” Shepherd Romey said. “He has given me a great deal of insight into the municipal process, which is entirely new to me. I also appreciate his expertise and experience. I think Josh has been unfailingly helpful and knowledgeable and that, to me, is priceless.”
Mayor Steve Talt, while acknowledging concerns about not recruiting for a third time, defended the hiring and stressed that the city was about to dive into a more complicated budgeting process than usual.
“We’re always going to need a finance director,” Talt said. “We’re not deciding whether we need an accountant I position. Searches cost money. Sometimes individuals are just fit for the work that they do. Josh is a fixer. I would not want to waste time and resources finding someone when I believe we have the right person for the right time, the right council and the right staff.”
After nearly four decades, the city’s Personnel Rules and Regulations handbook was given a much-needed dressing down and update and signed off by the City Council.
For reference, Human Resources Director David Serrano included in his presentation of the new document an attempt to transfer a file of the old handbook, which was produced in 1979, to a current processor.
“Is that in hieroglyphics?” Jakubowski asked in jest.
The development of these updated rules and regulations was considered a top priority by City Hall brass. With job expectations and responsibilities now clearly defined for the city’s employees, Serrano said he hopes to develop a more effective work environment with a proper organizational chart.
Serrano was sure to emphasize that this was a “living, breathing document.”
“Any changes we make, we are subject to meet and confer them,” he told the City Council. “There will be additional things and, as a good practice, we should review these on a periodic basis and clean them up.”
There was little discussion on the item, almost as if to approve the update that much quicker.
“Congratulations, finally,” Talt said afterward. “This was actually very big.”
The City Council finally settled on a plan to replace one of the aging restroom facilities in Lacy Park.
At a cost of $392,380, the old restroom in question will be torn down and replaced with a masonry structure with three stalls for men and women each and two family-style restrooms. It will visually resemble the style of the original 1926 restrooms, one of which remains as a historic structure.
The City Council was unanimous in its decision and stressed there should be a procedure developed for remotely unlocking the family-style restrooms in the event of any emergency.
Parks and Public Works Director Michael Throne explained that although masonry initially costs more than wood, it likely represents a long-term savings because of its longer lifespan and superior durability. Plans are set to be completed in June, with public bidding to begin in July. Throne, in his report, said he expected this budget item to be reappropriated for the upcoming budget year.
An alternative plan would have forgone the two family-style restrooms and added an additional stall for the men’s and women’s restrooms.

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