The new comptroller for East Hampton Town on the financial challenges the town faces, how our local banks will fare in the recession and why accounting is fun.
Considering East Hampton’s financial situation, which issue should be addressed first?
Firstly, we have to address the financial reporting requirements and implement the recommendations of the New York State Comptrollers Department and do an external audit. That is the most immediate issue. We have to get the books in order. I am not saying that they are not in any kind of order, but we need to get the financial statements complete. But, it will take time.
Are there any other financial problems the town will need to address in the near future?
I don’t really look at them as problems, but more as challenges. I think the town has grown and is perhaps going through a growing pains period. Now, the town needs to become more efficient and use technology a bit more effectively to enhance its operations.
Government is no longer a small organization anymore. They have a large revenue because people pay a lot of taxes, but the town really needs to update their operations to fit [larger government].
Making technology more efficient will probably be the biggest challenge. The more you use technology, the more money you save. When people embrace technology there is a large resulting costs savings.
My ultimate dream would be to have an almost paperless town government. There is very little need for paper in the workplace because of technology. If you need to look up a document it can be available through electronic means, and then someone can be at their desk and pull it up on their computer. All accounting reports, memos and forms should be put on computers. The corporate sector has already done this, but government is behind the corporate world in this respect. I have been in the private sector for a long time and they have embraced technology in public accounting and in banking.
But, it takes years to get this into place. We would have to implement this in steps. I have only been on the job a week, but that was my initial impression.
You have worked mainly for private banks, will it be easy to transition to a public office?
I worked for 15 years at Bridge Bancorp, Inc, which is a publicly traded company. As the Chief Financial Officer of Bridge Bancorp, I had a responsibility to the shareholders similar to the responsibility that I now have to the taxpayers of the town. Even though the private sector is profit driven, both banks and municipalities share the need for transparency in their financial reporting as well as the need for accountability and compliance with regulations and laws. They both also have a responsibility to their employees and the community as well.
At Bridge Bancorp, Inc., I did all of the financial reporting, and there is a difference with doing financial reporting for a municipality but they both mirror each other very much. When it comes down to it, accounting is accounting.
Do you think you were a more desirable candidate for the town’s comptroller position because of your background in the private sector?
I think the town really just needed an accountant. They really needed someone to do their financial reporting because financial reporting today is very complicated.
I don’t believe that East Hampton has ever had a comptroller; I think that I am the first. They had budget officers before, which is fine but as a town grows there becomes a need for a trained CPA.
How was the first week on the job?
A bit of a whirlwind but overall it was positive. The staff that I met with was very welcoming. I got a desk, set-up my computer, and email and also met with some outside accountants. It feels very rewarding to be part of the solution.
What is it about finances that interests you? Did you always know that you wanted to go into finances?
I started college as a horticulture major. I think I am a good role model for young adults just starting out, because sometimes it takes a few years out of high school to find your niche. After I left college, I went to night school for nine years to become a CPA, while I was also working full time.
Going to school at night wasn’t easy, but I love being a CPA.
Some people think it is boring, but accounting and finance provides the opportunity to learn about all sorts of different industries, meet amazing people and have fun. I think accounting gets a bad rap, but I have had so much fun doing my job. I actually encourage young people to go into accounting.
You were one of the founders of Georgica Bank, what need were you trying to serve by creating that bank?
Actually, I was recruited to work with Georgica Bank. The bank was conceived not by the management team but by its initial organizers, all of whom were important customers of the local banks and mostly local business people. They felt there was a need for a high touch, customer centric community bank. They felt that the other banks here were focused on expanding their branches westward.
I know you are a member of the budget advisory committee of the Sag Harbor School District and a member of the board of directors for the South Fork Breast Health Coalition, how do you manage your job, philanthropic work and personal life?
I have a great husband. We have a true partnership. I have three kids who are really independent and confident young adults. When you are a working mother, who is the CFO of a publicly traded cooperation, it teaches you the ultimate time management skills. Having a full slate taught me how to prioritize both on the job and in my personal life.
I have been on the budget committee for 14 years, and I was asked to join the SFBHC board in September, because giving back to the community is very important to me.
In light of the recession how do you think local banks will fare?
I think most of the problems we have seen to date are on a larger scale because most of the community banks were very careful and conservative in their investment and loan portfolios. In any recession it is difficult for banks. People lose their jobs, and maybe, their homes. Banks are a part of the community like any other business. This will have an effect, but a lot of banks out here did the right thing and took measured risks.
I don’t think anyone out here is going to be untouched by the recession. We need to get the economy moving so that people aren’t afraid to spend.