City of Bethel misses payday for employees, will hire help to stabilize finance department

Photo by Greg Kim/KYUK

Friday, June 19 was supposed to be payday for City of Bethel employees, but no one received their checks. Miscommunication in the finance department resulted in the city’s employees receiving their paychecks three days late, on June 22. In response, at the regular meeting on June 23, the city council directed the administration to bring in outside help.  

Two weeks ago, City Manager Vincenzo “Vinny” Corazza named Grant Manager John Sargent Acting Finance Director without advertising for the position. That move raised concern among some council members. At the June 23 meeting, Sargent explained to city council why paychecks were delayed last week.

“We typically have one accounts payable specialist that’s in payroll,” Sargent said. “She’s been doing it for five years. She’s never missed a Friday deadline.”

But she did this time. Sargent said that the employee was on partial maternity leave, but still was being relied on to perform payroll duties. Sargent said that she didn’t make the bank deadline for the paychecks to go out on June 19.

“It was a big miss,” Sargent said. “It was rare, but it did happen. We did everything we could to get it out. We did roll it out, but Monday was the actual deposits.”

Sargent said that Corazza drew $500 checks as advances for employees on June 19, to hold them over until June 22. But that and the fact that payroll had never been missed before was not enough to satisfy vice mayor Hanson.

“I know this is, like, a fluke, but things keep happening in the city where it’s like, ‘It was a fluke. It was a fluke,’” Hanson said. “And it’s like, we can’t keep having flukes, because then we want to talk about retention. We want people to work for the city. Being able to provide a check is one way to do that.”

Council member Alyssa Leary wasn’t pleased that Corazza sent an email to all city employees singling out the payroll specialist who made the mistake. 

“I would expect the city manager to say, ‘this was my fault,’ and to take the blame, rather than to point blame at any one employee,” Leary said.

Corazza said that the city didn’t receive enough notice on when the payroll specialist would be on partial maternity leave. He said that former Finance Director Christine Blake didn’t communicate that before she left.

Council members voted to direct the administration to stabilize the Finance Department by hiring a contracting firm to oversee it, and to hire a recruitment agency to find a new permanent Finance Director. 

In the same meeting, the city council also voted to approve early voting and electronic voting options. City Clerk Lori Strickler said that this would reduce crowds on election day, and increase overall voter turnout. Early voting would allow residents to cast their ballots during a two-week period before election day, and electronic voting would allow absentee ballots to be submitted via e-mail.