Lydia Noble

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 Brian 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. I spent 40 years in business and this blame-game is so inappropriate to me it’s impossible to believe anyone, let alone a Mayor, would think it permissible to make such a statement 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, the Mayor stated at the meeting I attended that the City is “now” using a headhunter to fill the open CFO position. A serious search for a CFO should have started in June, when our CFO first announced his resignation. And, it should have started with using headhunters and/or specialized online recruiters targeting CFOs with specialized talents in resolving city financial issues. Instead, according to the Mayor’s statements, standard City recruitment methods were used until now. This wasted valuable search time.

Second, 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, not just CFO.

Understand that when the “then-incoming” CFO took over in mid-January 2021, this position had been unfilled since 10/01/2020—over 3 months. 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, the FY2020 audit remains incomplete, likely due to those inherited issues. Add in 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.

Finally, if you mistakenly still believe rumor and innuendo that “Council drove the CFO to leave” or that Council is making it difficult to hire a replacement, both are false. In a separate online publication dated June 16, 2021, I learned that this CFO provided a clarifying written statement regarding the June event during which he resigned. To paraphrase, he had reviewed the video of the June meeting and talked with both Councilmembers Chris Stevens and Roger Bray. The CFO had changed his view and no longer believed that there was any intention by Stevens, Bray or Councilmember Claudia Ortega to impugn him or his work—in fact, he felt that his efforts were appreciated by the entire City Council. And, in the months since his resignation, I observed only a positive working relationship between all regular Council members and the CFO.

Additionally, please listen to the outgoing CFO’s recent comments about current City financial policies needing revisions (i.e., 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 approximately 03:05:00. He further recommends that a subcommittee be formed to make policy recommendations to the full Council. Despite the Mayor’s agreement to put an action item on the 11/04/21 meeting agenda for discussion of such a subcommittee, no such action item has been included on any agenda to date.

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.

Lydia Noble is a longtime resident of Pocatello, a graduate of the University of Pittsburgh, and recently retired from a 30-year career at the Idaho National Laboratory as a business professional. She co-founded Pocatello for Accountable Government Entities (P.A.G.E.) out of concern about Pocatello’s high property taxes and to work to ensure that retirees on fixed incomes are able to continue residing in Pocatello.