City loses second financial head in as many months

A subcommittee discussed how much of the former city treasurer’s duties would be reassigned to a replacement.

By Jonathan Friedman/Assistant Editor

The city of Malibu’s financial and Human Resources head announced she is leaving at the end of January. Administrative Services Director Julia James has accepted a position as director of finance for the city of South Gate. Her resignation follows City Treasurer/Auditor Pete Lippman’s November retirement. A meeting took place on Monday of the Administration and Finance City Council subcommittee, consisting of Mayor Sharon Barovsky and Mayor Pro Tem Andy Stern, with James and City Manager Katie Lichtig, to discuss which of Lippman’s duties would be designated to a new part-time treasurer. There was also a brief discussion regarding the search for a replacement for James. Additionally, at the meeting, the committee members discussed a disappointment in the progress of the city’s program to raise money for education through a city credit card.

The search for James’ replacement has already begun. Lichtig said the City Council would be able to interview those who are considered the top three candidates for the position. The council could then make a recommendation on who should be hired. But she said the final decision rests in her hands. The quest to find a replacement for Lippman has not been so speedy. Lippman’s position was unlike most others on the city staff because he only reported to the City Council, unlike all other department heads, except for the city attorney, who report to the city manager. Lippman was assigned projects by the council to independently review financial matters, among other duties. But the tasks assigned to a new city treasurer could be limited to no more than an annual independent review of the budget.

In the past, Lippman had been asked to conduct audits of various city departments. Barovsky said on Monday that it would be a better idea if consultants familiar with a particular type of department were hired to do this. She said an example of how this works is that a former municipal planning director was once hired by the city to do a performance audit of the Planning Department.

“It’s crazy to have a treasurer doing a performance audit of a department with which he has no expertise,” Barovsky said.

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Another task assigned to Lippman had been to present an annual investment policy to the council for the city’s excess funds. Lichtig said a new city treasurer might not have the expertise to do this, adding that a person who deals with the city’s investments should be familiar with municipal finance so they are not learning on the job. James said the city’s investment policy is not a difficult task to deal with because it does not change much. Each year, the treasurer presented the council with the investment policy, with only minor adjustments to the previous one. Barovsky said there could be people in the community with the necessary knowledge for the job. The subcommittee decided to further discuss the subject at a meeting on Thursday.

Barovsky said she still felt it was important to have an independent auditor of the budget, whether it be a city treasurer or a consultant. “We need an outside voice,” she said. “The community wants one. They have made that statement loud and clear.” She said that could mean it would be a person who was hired on a consultant basis annually to do the audit. Last month, Lippman said it would not be a good idea to just hire somebody once a year because it would be better to have somebody on staff who would be intimately familiar with what is going on with the city.

Another task that had been assigned to Lippman was to follow the progress of the city’s affinity credit card program. Begun last year, a city credit card was created with revenue made from the program going to youth services, including education. During the discussion on Monday, Barovsky said she was disappointed the program has not been successful, with only 13 people obtaining the cards and about $500 having been generated.

“We probably need to get [the] Parks and Recreation Department] involved,” Barovsky said.Lichtig added, “The school advocates need to either take the ball and run with it or we need it to die under its own weight.”

After the subcommittee’s meeting on Thursday, a proposal on what to do with the various items discussed will be formed by city staff with the committee members’ recommendations. The proposal will be put before the council in January.

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The Malibu Times is the first newspaper in Malibu, serving the community since 1946.

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