SMITHFIELD — After four people held the job in two years, Smithfield has a new finance director who plans to stick around for a while.
Greg Siler, who started work Sept. 30, comes to Smithfield from Hillsborough, where he was finance director for 10 years. Before that, he spent 15 years working for the bank that became Suntrust and five years in customer service for an insurance company in Connecticut. He grew up in Winston-Salem and Siler City.
His salary as finance director is about $82,000 a year.
“I don’t have a history of changing jobs at the drop of a hat, so to speak,” Siler said. “My first plan is to stick and stay, because it’s hard on staff, it’s hard on the town when you don’t have any one person that’s accountable.”
In March 2012, Justin Merritt resigned as Smithfield finance director, one in a series of resignations during the pay-raise scandal. The town had an interim director for three months before Mary Hogan took the job in June of that year. But she resigned after just eight months. Since March, Andrew Harris has been interim finance director.
Siler said he is loving the job so far.
“I think what appeals to me the most is the new challenge,” he said. “The people are great, and the challenge for me is learning the new software, the logistics of work flow around the office, the electric side of the business.”
Siler said he has a background in water and sewer, not electricity, and overseeing the fire department’s finances is also new.
Among his goals for the town, Siler wants to continue increasing Smithfield’s savings, which are below the state’s required level.
“That’s absolutely necessary in case of some emergency,” he said. “You’ve got to have the funds on hand to take care of the emergency without having to borrow the money. “
Siler also wants to make sure the town’s audit is award-worthy. He plans to have an outside agency, the Government Finance Officers Association, review the audits and, he hopes, achieve recognition for their quality.
He wants to establish rapport with other town departments to have good working relationships, he said.
“I want the citizens of Smithfield to know that I am committed to my profession and to the town, and that I will give this job everything that I possess,” he said.
For now, Siler is commuting from his home in Durham. But he said he likes the 50-minute drive – it gives him time to think. He plans on moving to Smithfield after his first year.
Town Manager Paul Sabiston said Siler stood out from other candidates because of his experienceand ideas on how to handle the town’s different departments.
“He had good local government experience in a town of comparable size, comparable budget and comparable services,” Sabiston said.
The town began searching for a new finance director after Hogan resigned in February. The town received 16 applications and narrowed the pool to four candidates by July, Sabiston said. All four interviewed in person but lived nearby, so the town didn’t pay for travel expenses.
Sabiston said a six-month search is typical for a key position such as finance director, especially since most finance directors don’t want to leave a town in the middle of the fiscal year.
Eric Peterson, the town manager of Hillsborough, said Siler did a good job there and was always pushing new ideas to improve billing, collection and finance operations.
“He’s very customer-focused,” Peterson said. “If they were short-staffed in the finance office, even though he was the finance director, he wouldn’t mind coming out and helping people collect payments or helping with billing or helping with payroll. He’s worked on all of those things himself; he’s got a good, solid understanding of all the operations.”
Peterson said finding a finance director can be hard because the job requires a unique skill set.
“It’s oftentimes the hardest position to fill in local government,” he said. “I know that Smithfield will be happy that they got somebody who’s experienced.”