Leader Blues

Wednesday, June 20, 2007

TOP STORY >>City clerk gets back her duties

Leader staff writer

In January, the Cabot City Council officially restored the duties that were stripped from Clerk-Treasurer Marva Verkler when Stubby Stumbaugh was mayor. Last week, after she lost her budget manager, Dale Walker, in a second round of layoffs to cut the city budget, she actually took over the work again after more than four years.

She is admittedly not familiar with the new accounting system and is considering returning to the old one.

She said she will go over all the financial records since January to make sure all transactions were coded correctly. And she will have to ask all her employees to take on more work than they were doing in the past to make up for the loss of the budget manager. Nevertheless, Verkler says she is glad to be running her own department again.

“It feels good,” she said Monday after a full week back at her old job. “It’s not anything I haven’t done before and it’s not anything I can’t do.”

Early in 2003, the city council took away most of Verkler’s duties and most of her staff and assigned them to Walker, who filled the newly created position of finance director and answered directly to the mayor.

Verkler sued the new mayor claiming he convinced the council to take away her duties because she supported his opponent, former Mayor Joe Allman.

Later that same year while Verkler was away from work for the birth of her first grandchild, Stumbaugh asked the council to also take away her checkwriting duties. Ignoring the fact that Verkler still had to sign the checks, Stumbaugh claimed that her absences made it difficult to pay the city bills and that giving the check-writing responsibility to Walker would expedite the process.

After about two years, she dropped the suit against Stumbaugh saying that keeping it going was against her religious convictions. The tension was noticeably lessened at council meetings, where she and Stumbaugh sat side by side. Eventually, she and Walker began working together secretly on budget issues so that by the time the budget committee learned late in 2006 that there was not enough money in the bank to make the payroll, Verkler was familiar with the problems the city faced.

By that time, Eddie Joe Williams had been elected mayor, and Walker knew the new mayor had no intention of keeping finances under his office. Walker was to become the budget manager under Verkler, who, for all practical purposes, he had replaced four years earlier.

Despite the hostility that reportedly existed between Verkler and Walker during the first three years of Stumbaugh’s administration, Verkler said this week that she is sad Walker was included in the layoff, but that he was the obvious choice if a cut had to be made in her department. With her duties restored by the council, his were a duplication, she said.

Verkler takes back the reins during a time of cautious spending. She said last week that the $280,000 or so the mayor has set aside since the first of the year is barely enough for one payroll. And exactly how the city will make the $5,000 monthly payment to Regions Bank for the five-year loan to buy property for a fire station on Highway 5 is not exactly clear. But she said she believes increased tax revenue is enough to cover it. In her 22 years with the city, she has seen the city in worse financial difficulty, she said.

Since she has been city clerk, the women in her office have shared a single bottle of white-out, she said. She said her predecessor would occasionally hold her own paycheck until she was certain everyone else’s had cleared the bank.

Since Verkler is elected to her position, there is nothing in her job description that says she must be in the office for a specified amount of time. And in recent years, that has been to her benefit. Verkler says she doesn’t mind talking about her illnesses. A back injury kept her away from the office for several months when Allman was mayor.

This year, she went through a difficult time when she believed she might have cancer. Her real problem turned out to be gastro paresis (a dead spot in her intestine) caused by diabetes.

But Verkler says her back doesn’t bother her as often as it did and now that her intestinal problem has been diagnosed and she is on the right medication, her health is much improved. She’s ready to get back to work she said and up to the challenge.

“I’ve got a very professional staff and we’re willing to do what we need to,” she said.