Crestwood mayor reaches halfway point in his three-year term

By Mike Anthony

Halfway through his three-year term, Crestwood Mayor Jim Robertson is pleased with the direction the city is headed, but believes much work lies ahead.

When Robertson was elected mayor in April 2002, it marked the first time in 24 years that the city’s mayor did not reside in Ward 1. Robertson also is the first mayor from the area that became part of Crestwood in 1997 when voters approved the annexation of 290 acres east of the city between Grant Road and Rock Hill Road.

Robertson, who was involved with the Neighbors for Annexa-tion, was elected to the Board of Aldermen in 1998 and re-elected in 2001.

In his campaign for mayor, Robertson said one of his goals was to establish an administration that would promote full communication between city officials and residents with the goal of “building a better way together.”

During a recent interview with the Call, Robertson reflected on his first 18 months as mayor, noting that he be-lieves his administration is doing a good job of focusing on residents, but room for improvement always exists.

“The most significant accomplishment is not yet finished, but it’s the fact that we must focus on the people that we work for,” he said. “That’s the reason we’re here, to take care of of that, and I think we’ve made a great deal of progress in reshaping the organization to understand that that is our mission. I’m very pleased with the fact that the city administrator (Don Greer) adheres to that as a creed, a belief, I don’t know what the right word is. I believe that the administrative side of the operation fully understands that and is working in that direction and I have always seen a great deal of evidence of that in the Police Department and the Fire Department.

“I don’t want to imply negatives about other parts of the operations of the city of Crestwood, but there’s room for improvement there … and we’re making that improvement. I already have evidence of that fact from a variety of sources. The fact of the matter is the city, as an example, the reception center up front where people come in and are assisted, is moving toward being customer focused to a degree that’s an obsession.

“And that’s they way it should be. We’re not finished in that department. We never will be — that’s what ‘building a better way’ is all about. It never stops. We’ve made significant strides in that direction and we will continue to improve,” the mayor added.

One of his goals as mayor has been to assemble an administrative staff that is responsive to residents and Robertson believes that goal has been attained.

Greer, who has served as the city’s police chief since 1990 and remains in that post, was named city administrator by aldermen last December after they accepted the retirement of longtime City Administrator Kent Leichliter.

At Greer’s request, the Board of Aldermen in March created a new position — director of finance — and hired Diana Madrid to fill the position. Madrid is a former director of finance for the city of Manchester.

“I am delighted with the attitude and performance of the current administrative staff and from a management perspective, we not only should talk about our expectations and the kind of performance that we want to see and what we’re trying to do, but we should demonstrate that,” Robertson said. “And the administrative side of the building I believe is demonstrating very clearly for anyone who cares to look and try to understand what we’re about, the level of performance that we want for the city of Crestwood today, tomorrow and forever in the future.”

Shortly after Greer became city administrator, he told members of the Ways and Means Committee that while the Board of Aldermen was led to believe the city’s general fund was balanced at the end of fiscal 2002, that was not the case. That was the first sign that the city was facing a financial crisis, a situation that has proved to be the most difficult challenge Robertson faced — and continues to face — as mayor.

For example, though the Board of Aldermen adopted a balanced fiscal 2004 operating budget in July, preparation of an end-of-the-year budget adjustment ordinance designed to close out the city’s fiscal 2003 books led to a revised fiscal 2004 general fund budget that projects a shortfall of $112,010. During the preparation of the budget adjustment ordinance, which has yet to be presented to the board, city officials discovered that fiscal 2003 general fund expenses were slightly more than anticipated, while revenues, particularly those from merchant licenses, were far less than projected.

A request for proposals for professional auditing services for fiscal 2003 issued by the city of Crestwood stipulates the new auditor will have to “restate the financial statements” for fiscal 2001 and 2002. On Tuesday night — after the Call went to press — the Board of Aldermen was scheduled to consider an ordinance selecting Brown Smith Wallace as the city’s independent auditing firm.

“We are financially challenged,” Robertson said. “I am concerned. I fear that we have inherited a financial mess from the previous administration. We know that we have to restate our books, records, financial accounts … for ’01 and ’02. We know that. That’s in the RFP for new auditors. We know that we have financial anomalies that we cannot explain. We know that when Mr. Greer and Ms. Madrid tried to prepare an ordinance to close the books for ’03 to conform what really happened to what the original projections were, that they weren’t able to do that.

“We know that there were numbers in there that weren’t real, I guess is as simple a way to say that as possible. They just didn’t match up to reality. People are working on that. We’re awaiting the conclusions of their efforts and I’m very concerned about it because you’ve got to have the ability to pay your people, pay your bills and just move forward. And that’s a challenge that until we get to the bottom of what happened and where we really are, I can’t tell you what that means,” the mayor said.

Crestwood residents have helped ease the city’s financial situation in two elections. In August 2002, residents approved a 15-year extension of a half-cent capital-im-provement sales tax. This past August, residents approved a quarter-cent sales tax designed to offset some of the costs of providing fire protection.

Before placing the fire sales tax on the ballot, both Robertson and Greer had pledged they would not ask the Board of Aldermen to seek voter approval of an additional revenue source until they believed the city was operating as efficiently and as cost effective as possible. In preparing the city’s fiscal 2004 budget, Greer had reduced the city’s total expense position by roughly $660,000 compared to the previous fiscal year by consolidating operations and eliminating a dozen positions.

Robertson said he considers voter approval of the two ballot measures as an affirmation the city is moving in the right direction.

“… The voters of Crestwood have expressed faith in what we’re doing and where we’re going. I deeply appreciate that and I recognize that that imposes a tremendous responsibility upon us to continue in the direction that we’ve set out on … Basically, they’ve said: ‘OK, so far we like what you’re doing. We like where you’re trying to go.’ And it’s now incumbent upon us to take advantage of the opportunity that they’ve given us to put things in proper order and move forward using the phrase, I mean we’re building a better way together. We’re just going to keep doing that. And I’ve said it over and over again, the beauty of that is it never stops. The day will never come that we will wake up and say ‘we’re finished’ because we can always improve.”