Finance directors have broad authority in city government.  A finance director promotes transparency, efficiency and accountability as the chief bookkeeper. Their financial expertise is invaluable in ensuring citizens get the most out of their tax money and in proving so while finance directors may only have a basic understanding of the different city departments. Numbers go further than rhetoric in proving that tax money is collected and spent according to the public’s best interest. Finance directors are involved in the work of all other city departments much like city attorneys. The finance director usually reports to the city manager rather than an assistant city manager like other department heads. In every action, city staffers need to make sure they are doing things right from legal and financial perspectives since finance departments touch all others. The finance director helps write the cost estimate and justification in case the public works director wants to hire an additional 20 staff to collect garbage. The finance director helps with the revenue projection in case the recreation and park director wants to raise the fee to reserve a soccer field. Finance directors quickly achieve a deep knowledge of all city functions by necessarily getting into other departments’ business.

 

City finance director

Finance directors are selected through the normal government hiring process. Cities usually conduct extensive background and reference checks on finalists because finance directors have easy access to cash and broad authority in the city’s financial information system. It only makes sense that the department head most responsible for championing sound financial controls is proven trustworthy. Finance directors must have formal education in accounting and finance. They must have bachelor’s degrees in a relevant field at a minimum. Many have master’s degrees in accounting and are certified public accountants. Preferably in city government, candidates for finance director positions should have significant accounting experience. Finance directors supervise finance department staff. One or more layers of management are placed under the finance director’s line of supervision in midsize and large cities. Finance department management duties are often divided by function such as budget, revenue collection, claims processing, payroll and financial reporting. Staff communicate with one another because all their work eventually rolls up to the city’s annual financial report and other routine and ad-hoc reports produced throughout the year. The finance director is ultimately responsible for maintaining the city’s financial data. Not only do the numbers need to be accurate every time, they also need to be understandable. They must be explained when the finance department produces reports. The finance director makes sure that explanatory text, tables, charts and footnotes will make sense to people without financial background.  Governments must abide by generally accepted accounting principles set forth by the Governmental Accounting Standards Board. Finance directors ensure that their cities follow GASB’s standards. Finance department policies help the city do this. City employees who handle cash or have access to the financial information system are responsible for following these policies. The finance department trains these employees on relevant policy.