New London seeks new finance director
New London — Finance Director Donald E. Gray Jr. has signaled his impending retirement from the city.
The city posted his position this week and set a Nov. 30 deadline for applications. Mayor Michael Passero said Gray plans to stay on and ensure a smooth transition with his successor.
It will be Gray’s second retirement from the city. He was hired as city comptroller in 1982 and became the finance director in 1988, a job he held until his retirement in 2003.
Passero, shortly after his election as mayor in 2016 and before his actual swearing in, lured Gray out of retirement to act as a consultant to work with former Finance Director Jeff Smith during his transition into the office.
Despite some dire financial predictions from former Mayor Daryl Justin Finizio, Passero said Gray managed to right the ship and formulate a budget with no tax increase during Passero’s first year in office.
“We had no fund balance. Our credit rating had been knocked down. Taxes were pushing up,” Passero said. “He’s really restored the city’s financial health."
Passero blames state cuts for the rise in taxes in his second year in office but said finances stabilized in the current budget thanks to some tough belt-tightening decisions by Gray and the City Council.
“Don has really done a great job getting policies in place and he’s done everything he promised,” Passero said. “He stayed on longer than really he envisioned when he made the commitment to come back. I’ve been counting my blessings for as long as he’s stayed.”
City Council President Pro Tempore Don Venditto said that, among other initiatives, Gray introduced an ordinance that mandates that $500,000 per year be put into the fund balance for the foreseeable future.
Gray’s input on the bond rating has helped identify areas that the administration needs to focus on to move the rating in a favorable direction, Venditto said.
“In the three years I have been on council and after having gone through three budget cycles working with Don Gray, I would say he is a seasoned professional with an expertise in municipal budgets, Venditto said. “He has produced detailed line item budgets that are fairly simple to follow, even for councilors that don't have a financial background or aren't used to working with spreadsheets on a regular basis.”
Gray, who earned a $157,000 annual salary, was not available to comment. His retirement benefits were renegotiated during his three-year stay with the city. The posted job position indicates that salary is “commensurate with experience.”
The retirement comes even as the city and school district continue work on a merger of financial software systems.
There is no indication, however, the two sides plan to discuss a consolidated finance department, even though there was a job posting for a “chief financial officer” in 2016 and the school district went so far as to budget for the position under former Superintendent Manuel Rivera. There was a suggestion at that time that the new position was a requirement of the school district’s release from state supervision.
Discussion on a joint position, however, faded when Gray was hired in the city and former school board member Robert Funk was hired as the finance director for the school district within a span of three months in 2016.
When asked about the possibility of a joint position in the future, Passero said a city finance director is a requirement of the City Charter.
“The city needs a finance director and is required to have one,” he said.
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