After several months without a finance director, the City of Liberty Hill hired Sidney Smith for the role in late February.
The City’s previous finance director, Becky Wilkins, was fired for “discourteous conduct and substandard productivity in workmanship” in August 2021. The City has had two different temporary directors in the interim to assist with the finance department’s pressing needs.
Smith comes to Liberty Hill with more than 23 years’ experience in municipal and governmental finance. She started her career as a utility clerk and moved up through the ranks as an accounting clerk, senior accounting clerk, human resources director, interim finance director, assistant finance director and finance manager. Most recently, she was serving as assistant finance director for the City of Red Oak in North Texas.
She learned of the opening for the position from Liberty Hill’s Interim Finance Director Marti Simpson, who called to tell her about the job.
“I have been wanting to be a director for a long time, and Marti told me she had the perfect job for me,” Smith said. “She caught me on a good day I guess, because I talked to my husband about it, sent in my information, and the rest is history.”
Smith has relocated to Liberty Hill during the week, but on the weekends, she travels back home to spend time with her husband in Paradise, Texas, where he still works.
Along with the addition of Smith, the entire finance department has been overhauled by the City. One new staff accountant was hired a few months ago, as well as a new utility billing specialist. Smith said she is looking to hire another staff accountant, a purchasing coordinator and another utility billing specialist in the future. Simpson is remaining on staff for now to help Smith settle in, and another temporary finance employee has also joined the team to help expedite the 2021 fiscal year audit and catch the department up on journal entries.
“That way I can focus on more of the day-to-day things and the other projects that need to be taken care of,” Smith said. “We have several new policies that need to be written. Because we didn’t have proper staff until now, we are behind on things for the current fiscal year and we are absolutely planning on last year’s audit being done by the end of June. I fully expect at this time next year we will be talking about the 2022 audit that we just submitted, because the audit is supposed to be done by the end of March.”
Smith said she plans to work to get the department up to speed, and by having a full staff and new policies in place, she expects that to happen sooner than later.
Smith is aware that joining the staff at the City of Liberty Hill comes with a unique set of challenges, but she said she is ready to make the changes necessary to help the department grow positively.
“After we find the right people to get us staffed up, we will take care of all the big things that need to be taken care of, like the 2021 audit,” she said. “After that it will be all about creating and updating policies, like our purchasing policy.”
Once those policies are updated, Smith said she plans on training the entire city staff so that everyone knows exactly what the rules and regulations are when it comes to the finance department.
“I will hold every employee’s feet to the fire to make sure they are following those guidelines,” she said. “Right now they haven’t had the training, so they don’t all know how to use the software, which is why I will be training everyone. We are also working on a time entry process that will be easier for the staff to use. I’m just going down the line and looking at different policies and what we need to update them and what needs to be brought in as a new policy we haven’t had before.”
Smith added that as she introduces new policies to the City, she will make sure all the stakeholders involved will receive the proper training, which hasn’t been done in the past.
“When I interviewed, I was told about the turnover in the finance department, and that it would be mine to build from the ground up,” Smith said. “That was very exciting to me. It’s a lot of hard work, but I want to work with the Council and what they have envisioned for the City. With my years of expertise, knowledge and people I know that I can reach out to, I know we can get the best policies and procedures in place for the City.”
Smith added that she also wants to help the City move into a good financial position to accommodate the growth the City is seeing.
“That is something we are working on,” Smith said. “Marti and I discovered there were quite a few large deposits that automatically went into the City’s general bank account that hadn’t been recorded this year, but those are now recorded. Marti has been working on that very diligently, and now that I’m here, she is able to get into the weeds and find those items and see where they need to go. We are getting those corrections made and those journal entries made. We plan to have all of that done around the same time as the 2021 audit.”
Smith added that these projects are high priority for her, because once they are complete, the budgeting for next year will be clearer.
“Without that info in the right places and knowing what we’ve got, it’s difficult,” she said.
Ultimately, Smith said her biggest goal in her new role is to build a strong finance department with solid policies that are followed.
“I also want our employees and departments to know they can come and ask about their budgets and how something was spent or how it should be spent,” she said. “I am here to help with their day-to-day operations.”