FREEPORT — To relieve the city manager from directly supervising 14 department heads, Freeport City Council elected to promote the city’s finance director to assistant city manager.

Council unanimously approved this staff recommendation at its meeting Monday, City Manager Tim Kelty said. Councilwoman Sandra Loeza was absent.

Stephanie Russell, who has served as finance director since March, will become the assistant city manager with a $120,000 annual salary, according to meeting documents. In actuality, this is promoting Russell to a dual role of assistant city manager and finance director, Kelty said.

Russell replaced Bob Welch, who “agreed to resign” as finance director Dec. 31, The Facts previously reported.

Russell has served in similar capacities before, most recently as the chief financial officer and assistant city administrator in Dickinson, she said. Because of her experience, she is familiar with the responsibilities of her new position, Russell said.

Russell has enjoyed working in Freeport the last four months, she said.

“I’m excited about the changes that are happening in the city and the progress that Tim has been able to make so far,” Russell said. “I’m hoping we can keep that going forward.”

The new organizational structure will have eight departments reporting directly to the city manager: police, fire and emergency medical services, streets and drainage, assistant city manager, city secretary, parks and recreation, information technology and economic development.

The human resources, museum, community development, finance, utilities, court and golf course departments will report to the assistant city manager, according to meeting documents.

The “optimal span of control” is five departments, according to Kelty’s memo to council, but nine departments can be managed effectively with strong departmental leadership.

“The overall management team of directors would continue to function as a team,” the memo states.

Also at Monday’s meeting, council heard an audit presentation from Whitley Penn LLC, the city’s new auditing firm, Kelty said. Whitley Penn replaced the firm that had been auditing the city for many years, he said.

The firm came with a “whole slew of recommendations” from the October 2017 to September 2018 fiscal year, Kelty said.

Kelty started with the city in October 2018. In the previous four months, three former Freeport city employees had been arrested and accused of using taxpayer funds for personal reasons, including former city manager Jeff Pynes.

Whitley Penn’s recommendations included spreading internal control over financial reporting, noting one person was assigned responsibility for the payroll and human resources functions and one person was assigned responsibility for the accounts payable and purchasing functions. They also recommended the city have formal year-end procedures for financial reporting and use properly approved purchase orders.

This was encouraging for Kelty, he said, since he has already begun instituting many of the recommendations listed.

“Some of the things we’ve done in the last six months have fixed several of the things they recommended,” he said.

Maddy McCarty is a reporter for The Facts. Contact her at 979-237-0151.

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