VERO BEACH — The head of the city’s finance department quietly announced his retirement last week – preparing to leave March 30, ahead of what is expected to be the city’s worst budget year in recent memory.
Finance Director Stephen J. Maillet spent 25 years as a city employee. With his impending departure the city will have no manager on hand with any long-term experience creating an annual budget.
The finance director’s job entails the oversight and management of $141 million in the city’s various budgets and funds and the supervision of the 32 employees in the accounting, budget, information systems, purchasing and warehouse divisions of the Finance Department, including cashiers who collect utility payments. The finance director is tasked with making sure all the decision makers — both politicians and staff — have fact-based fiscal information.
Maillet declined requests to be interviewed about his retirement.
This month, Maillet was scheduled to begin a series of annual meetings with the city’s finance committee, which was dragged out of mothballs in January to brainstorm approaches to the impending budget crisis.
Though Gabbard said in a memo to the City Council that he would immediately begin the search for Maillet’s replacement, it is expected to take some time to get someone new on board.
In the interim, Maillet’s staff will need to fill in the gaps and get the city through the upcoming budget season, with workshops scheduled throughout the summer.
Assistant Finance Director Jackie Mitts is expected to lead the department until Maillet’s replacement is hired.
A 59-year-old barrier island resident, Mitts was first hired by the city in 1972 as a clerk typist for the building department and worked on and off for the city, joining the staff full time in 1978. She’s been there ever since, serving as Maillet’s right hand at the helm of the finance department.
In a letter recommending a promotion and raise for Mitts in December 2007, Maillet wrote, “Jackie has the skills and training to run the department and is ready for additional assignments and duties.”
Daige said his top priority, in the interim, is for the staff to maintain “good order” in the budget process while the position is vacant. Though the council will not have a say in who is hired to replace Maillet, Daige said he has some high expectations of Gabbard as he makes his selection.
“The way it is done, Gabbard would be doing the hiring, but this is what I am looking for from the city manager, that he knows what the city needs and he knows what the issues are,” Daige said. “I would expect that he make a wise and prudent choice so we can make some positive changes and move forward.”
Maillet got an unexpected start in city government some 30 years ago. In the 1970s when he was graduating from Georgetown University with a degree in international affairs and serving as a payroll sergeant in the U.S. Army National Guard, Maillet was called in to participate on some international projects with China – and a career in politics seemed to be in his future.
He worked his way through college as a cashier at a Safeway grocery store, moved to Florida in March 1980, and went to work as a night auditor at a Holiday Inn while earning a second degree in accounting at Rollins College’s Brevard campus.
While working as an internal auditor and budget analyst for the City of Melbourne, Maillet applied for an operations accountant job with the City of Vero Beach and was hired in April 1985.
Commissioner Bob Solari, who served one term on the Vero city council, said that, in his opinion, Maillet’s retirement should not be viewed as a crisis, but as an opportunity.
“I think the city has a great opportunity to strengthen their finance department, if they go about the process in the right way and take the time to look hard for someone that will significantly strengthen the city,” he said.
Councilman Ken Daige agreed that Maillet’s retirement is a chance for the city to move forward and to possibly take a different direction in the area of finance.
“It does no good beating up this one or that one for things in the past. We need to look at how we can do things better going forward,” Daige said.