Bethel finance director quits amidst rampant turnover at city’s finance department

The City of Bethel’s finance department has lost 14 employees over the course of as many months, with the most recent loss being former Finance Director Christine Blake who left on May 22. (Greg Kim / KYUK)

The City of Bethel’s finance department has a turnover problem that has become even worse. Finance Director Christine Blake decided to quit early, citing a “chaotic and unprofessional environment.” This marks at least the 14th employee to have left Bethel’s finance department in as many months. 

Blake’s last day was May 22, after starting work for the city in March 2019. She originally provided the city a month’s notice, but decided to leave two weeks early, saying in an email to the city manager that “the chaotic and unprofessional environment at the city has taken a toll on my well-being.” In the same email, she expressed concern about the city’s lack of preparation for her departure, and warned of more staff leaving.

When asked what she meant about the chaotic and unprofessional environment, she wrote back to KYUK, saying that the fact that somebody in the city had forwarded her email with those comments was an excellent example of the chaos and lack of professionalism she referred to.

She also urged the city council to stop micromanaging her department. She said, “for example, a line-by-line review of the budget isn’t necessary; your Administration/Finance team has done the work.” She also thanked her staff at the finance department and former Acting City Manager Bill Howell for their support over the past year.

Current City Manager Vincenzo “Vinny” Corazza arrived in his role less than two months ago, and said that the COVID-19 pandemic has made the city’s work environment hectic. But he said that he could only guess as to what Blake was referring to in her complaints.

“You would have to ask her those specifics, but I’m guessing it’s due to the turnover,” Corazza said.

Blake said in her last manager’s report that over the past 13 months, the finance department has lost at least 13 employees. Blake was the 14th. Council member Cecilia “Cece” Franko, who is a member of the Finance Committee, said that the turnover problems have existed for much longer than the time Blake has been there.

Corazza said that he doesn’t know yet what’s behind the rampant turnover in the finance department. He said that he plans to take over as head of the department until he gets to the bottom of it.

“Talk to the staff, find out what issues they may have, how we can right the ship, how we can stabilize it,” Corazza said. “Because going forward, we can’t have this turnover.”

He believes that at least part of the turnover issues are because of low pay. Corazza said that he advised the city council to increase the salaries in the finance department even though the city’s overall revenue is down due to COVID-19.

Corazza said that he is also looking at increasing the salary for all department heads. He said that because department heads are salaried, while other city employees are hourly, some employees earn more money than the department head because of overtime pay.

“She was making her normal salary plus overtime,” Corazza said. “So it wasn’t really financially incentivizing her to take that leap. It would be a pay cut.”

Blake’s departure comes right in the middle of the city council meetings to hammer out next year’s budget. Council member Mark Springer is confident that the city will be able to pass the budget on time, even without a finance director.

“We want to get one as soon as possible, but not having one is not impacting our deliberations,” Springer said.

As of now, Springer and Mayor Perry Barr reported that the budget is around $600,000 in the red, but discussions are ongoing to see if the city can achieve a balanced budget. The city has until June 15 to get a final version adopted.