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New London change

Published May 07. 2013 4:00AM

The public should view the recent moves by the Department of Finance in New London - eliminating three full-time positions and replacing them with three part-time positions with different job responsibilities - in the larger context of a departmental reorganization.

The restructuring by Director of Finance Jeffrey H. Smith began two years ago during the closing months of the administration of Denise Rose, the last city manager before the change to a mayoral government. It has continued under Mayor Daryl Justin Finizio. Its goal: "Creating an organization that is both highly efficient and effective."

Mr. Smith said when he arrived two years ago he found a horizontal management structure that did not have enough staff focused on the core functions of a finance department. The department was particularly lacking in accounting skills when Mr. Smith arrived, with "only one person with the title accountant who does accounting," he wrote in a memo to Ms. Rose.

The director set about creating a vertical management organization focused on the primary functions of a finance department: accounts payable; accounts receivable; and accounting and bookkeeping. He has beefed up the number of accountants and deemphasized purchasing.

Those priorities were reflected in the latest changes, expected to take effect July 1, the start of the new fiscal year. Mr. Smith plans to cut the position of purchasing agent and replace it with a part-time purchasing agent/accountant. That's quite a change from two years ago when the city had a purchasing agent and purchasing assistant.

Given today's technology and changes in the nature of municipal purchasing, Mr. Smith said there is no longer a need to centralize purchasing in a single department. Beginning in July, the city will decentralize purchasing and push it down to the department level, which the director expects will improve efficiency.

The latest changes reduce two other clerical positions to part-time and Mr. Smith recommends creating another part-time accounting position.

City labor unions are challenging the changes, saying the city needs to negotiate them. Mr. Smith contends the city has the authority. We will let the process sort things out.

While the changes, including lack of benefits for part-time positions, will save some money, an estimated $50,000 next year, the primary goal is a better functioning department. With earlier changes, city accounting, which often ran several months behind, is up to date, he said. Recent consolidation of financial services together in one office, a former bank, also helps effectiveness.

Change to improve and adjust is business as usual in the private sector, but often resisted in the ranks of government. The city administration deserves credited for working to streamline financial operations.

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