By Justin Vicory
Jackson”s chief administrative officer will take on the role of director of finance and administration and an outside consultant has been brought in to help with the city’s upcoming fiscal year budget.
CAO Robert Blaine said Monday he would step into the role of director of finance and administration until a permanent replacement is found, following Charles Hatcher’s decision to step down.
Safiya Omari, Mayor Chokwe Antar Lumumba’s chief of staff, said the city planned to bring in Michelle Thomas of the New Orleans-based Thomas Consulting Group to oversee the budget process.
Thomas worked as business administrator for then-Newark, New Jersey, Mayor Corey Booker before Booker was elected to the U.S. Senate.
She is credited with steering the Newark budget through one of the worst economic crises in the city’s history, cutting the city’s deficit by more than half, or $105 million, according to The Star-Ledger.
Most recently, she was the chief administrative officer and then executive director of the Louisiana Housing Corp. from 2014 to 2016, which administers federal and state funds for programs aimed at advancing affordable and energy-efficient housing for low and moderate-income families.
Thomas was one of the highest-paid City Hall officials with an annual salary of $164,500 while she served as deputy mayor of operations in New Orleans. She managed several departments, including the Historic Districts Landmarks Commission, New Orleans Recreation Development Commission, as well as parks and parkways, safety and permits, sanitation, the taxicab bureau, the Vieux Carre Commission and permitting, the New Orleans Advocate said.
Hatcher made a $105,000 salary when he was the director, which raised some eyebrows among council members at the time. Hatcher replaced Trivia Jones, who made $85,001 as director of administration. The council had to amend its pay scale, capped at $86,000, to accommodate the new salary.
Omari said the city couldn’t afford Thomas as its director of finance and administration.
Thomas has been the president of the Thomas Consulting Group since 2013. The group provides management consulting services to its clients who included New Orleans Mayor LaToya Cantrell, the Orleans Parish School Board, Hinds County and the Finance Authority of New Orleans, according to Thomas’ LinkedIn online account.
Thomas won’t face a confirmation hearing from the City Council but any financial contract is subject to their approval. It’s expected to come up at the council’s next meeting on June 19.
Hatcher resigned on May 31.
Blaine said Hatcher,whom the mayor said resigned for personal reasons, accomplished some of the objectives set out by Lumumba, such as the creation of a long-term debt strategy plan for the city and guidance on this year’s budget.
“We wish him well. It’s sad to see him go, but he was invaluable in his role here,” Blaine said.