Mayor wants Columbus’s next chief operating officer to have background in government, accounting and budgeting

COLUMBUS, Miss. (WCBI) – Monday, a hiring committee for the city of Columbus held a special meeting to discuss candidates for open city positions. Topping the list: a new chief operating officer.

Columbus Mayor Keith Gaskin has high expectations for the city’s next COO.

“Making short-term and long-term plans financially for the city,” he says. “And it really requires, I think, someone with a strong background in city government or in business.”

The mayor says he wanted to restructure the position to focus on accounting and working with budgets.

“We need to get this one right,” says Ward 3 City Councilman Rusty Greene. “And given our track record over the last few years of balancing the budget and maintaining the books, I would say someone with a strong financial background would almost be a must.”

The mayor and city council members Jacqueline DiCicco, Ethel Stewart, Joseph Mickens and Greene, all sit on the hiring committee in charge of finding the new COO and a new Chief Financial Officer.

“In the past, that position has reported directly to the mayor,” Mayor Gaskin said, regarding the CFO. “I would like to see that position reporting to the COO and that they work closely together in the budgeting process.”

The mayor says they have over 40 applicants each for the COO and CFO positions. Each member of the search committee was instructed to present their top three applicants for COO, CFO and Director of IT during Monday’s meeting.

The goal was to narrow that down to a list of the top candidates overall for each job after Monday’s meeting.

“Determine as a committee who we feel are the best candidates for probably a phone interview first, and then trying to get people here in person,” the mayor says.

Mayor Gaskin says that having a strong city staff in place to maintain Columbus’s finances is one of the keys to issues like improving pay for city employees.

“We’re a little bit behind in some of the levels of pay,” he says. “Why is that? It’s because, in my opinion, the city has not done a good job of preparing financially.”

As they go through the hiring process, the mayor says they could also consider raising the COO salary to attract as many experienced candidates as possible.

“Positions like this in other cities our size and smaller, are making much more than what we’ve been paying a COO,” he says.

Once the COO is in place, the mayor says he would like to see them oversee all the city’s department heads (except for fire and police) and keep the mayor and city council informed on city finances on a regular basis.

“Sometimes change is hard,” Mayor Gaskin says. “But I’m hoping to continue to work with the council to make sure we’ve got the best people that we can hire in these positions going forward and try to get the city on a good fiscal track.”

They hope to fill at least some of these positions before the end of January.

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