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Greer reflects on first year as Crestwood city administrator

First of a two-part series

Don Greer didn't know exactly what he was getting into when he accepted the job of Crestwood's city administrator a year ago.

Greer, who has served as the city's police chief since 1990 and continues to hold that post, was named city administrator by the Board of Aldermen in December 2002. Greer succeeded Kent Leichliter, who had served as Crestwood's city administrator since 1978.

Serving as city administrator was not a new role for Greer, who worked as city manager for the city of Wood River, Ill., from 1984 to 1988. But when he assumed the post of Crestwood's city administrator, Greer didn't have an inkling of the tumultuous year the city would face nor the emotional toll it would take on city officials, including himself.

During a recent interview with the Call, Greer reflected on his first 12 months as Crestwood's city administrator and noted that he could not have possibly foreseen the financial troubles the city would encounter that ultimately would lead to a forensic audit and a lawsuit filed against two former city officials, including Leichliter.

When Greer was named city administrator, Crestwood seemingly was financially healthy. But within weeks of beginning his new duties, he encountered difficulty in obtaining historical financial data and subsequently purchased a computer program that allowed him to obtain data directly from the city's general ledger.

During a meeting of the city's Ways and Means Committee in mid-January, the city administrator told members he had asked for and received the resignation of Finance Officer Robert Wuebbels the previous day.

He also told committee members 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 Greer faced — and continues to face — as city administrator.

"... I've become much more adept at understanding finances of government than I ever thought I would be ...,'' Greer told the Call. "I didn't anticipate that. I knew when I came in that there were some issues. I had identified a couple of issues early. My initial thought was perhaps, you know, more from an administrative side, there are certain ways that I prefer to look at things as opposed to my predecessor.

"We're very different. He looked at things his way. I have a tendency to look at things different and mine's not better than his, but it's different. For example, the city of Crestwood being so dependent on sales tax, the thought of not having a cash-flow scenario to work from, to me, was — I can't understand how you could function without a cash-flow scenario. We didn't really have a cash-flow scenario ...,'' he said.

The more information he compiled about the city's finances, the more concerned Greer became about the city's fiscal position. In recommending a balanced fiscal 2004 operating budget to the Board of Aldermen, Greer 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.

Though the Board of Aldermen adopted a balanced fiscal 2004 operating budget, the 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 projected a shortfall of $112,010.

During the preparation of the budget adjustment ordinance, which has yet to be presented to the board, Greer and Director of Finance Diana Madrid discovered that fiscal 2003 general fund expenses were slightly more than anticipated, while revenues, particularly those from merchant licenses, were far less than projected.

After discovering what Greer termed fiscal "anomalies,'' city officials began an internal investigation into the accounting practices used by Leichliter and Wuebbels and the Board of Aldermen hired Brown Smith Wallace to perform a forensic audit of the city's finances for fiscal 2001 and fiscal 2002.

The forensic audit, released Nov. 1, alleged that Leichliter and Wuebbels violated the City Charter, numerous ordinances and their duties as fiduciary officers in their handling of the city's finances.

Less than three weeks later, the city filed a lawsuit against Leichliter and Wuebbels alleging they breached their fiduciary duties by manipulating financial records to misrepresent the city's true financial condition to Mayor Jim Robertson and the Board of Aldermen.

"... I never dreamed. I just didn't. I've been in the city of Crestwood for a long time and I've had some of my own observations and criticisms of things over the years ...,'' Greer said. "The city of Crestwood has been a very good place for me. I continue to really enjoy working here. The emotional aspects of this last year are probably worse than anything. Kent Leichliter's a friend of mine. He probably isn't today. Probably never will be again, but obviously it's his choice. It's not mine.

"I respect the man today; care a great deal about him. How could I not? I mean he hired me. He supported me through some rather significant changes that we made in the Police Department and I will be forever thankful for that. I think among all of the relationships in terms of department heads, I think that Bob Wuebbels and I got along better than probably any other department head and finance officer had ...

"The emotional strain has been beyond what I would want anybody to ever have to go through. I had a couple meltdowns myself. But there's a great responsibility and that's what this year's been, recognizing that,'' Greer said.

The past year also has been stressful for city employees, he said.

"The effect this last year has had on em-ployees is not insignificant,'' he said. "It is significant. There's a lot of worry and concern and everybody worries about the financial future and whether we're going to have a job. Will we still get a raise if we earn it? Everybody worries about health insurance. Everybody worries about things like that. I mean it's natural and normal for them to worry about that. I've had several meetings with employee groups to try to answer their questions and talk to them about that. So it's going to take a little time to rebuild the confidence the employees have ...''

But the city is moving forward, Greer said. "... I'm pleased. I'm happy. I think it's going to take a while for employees to recover and not be so overwhelmed with the financial woes. It's going to take a bit for them to regain their confidence that no one's going to have to look over their shoulder worrying about if they're going to get laid off ... There will continue to be changes, but I also have a tendency to think that people make their own choices on those matters. I think I'm very clear with regard to what the priorities of the city of Crestwood are and people then can make a choice as to whether or not they want to get on board with that.''

Next week: The city administrator discusses redevelopment and other issues with the Call.

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