Money man

City’s new finance director takes his seat

Newly hired Finance Director Chris Constantin at his first City Council meeting.

Newly hired Finance Director Chris Constantin at his first City Council meeting.

Photo By tom gascoyne

Chico’s new finance director, Chris Constantin, attended his first City Council meeting Tuesday (April 16), at which he was introduced by City Manager Brian Nakamura, who’d hired him last month from his job as assistant auditor for the city of San Diego.

Constantin was named to the position the day after Jennifer Hennessy gave her notice after six years on the job. As the city’s finances worsened, Hennessy was often the target of sharp criticism from some council members and agenda-driven citizens. The finance director makes recommendations to the council and gives status reports. Each year an independent auditor’s report gave Hennessy credit for a job well done. But controversy comes with the job in times of dire finances.

Hennessy said her decision to leave was based both upon the attraction of a job opening in the Riverside County city of Temecula and a desire to leave Chico after a tough run.

In an interview prior to the council meeting, the 37-year-old Constantin talked about his decision and the controversies he is escaping in San Diego, where he’s served as assistant auditor since 2010.

“I made a three-year commitment in San Diego that was up in February,” he said. “At about that point I wasn’t really happy because I wasn’t feeling appreciated.”

Last April an employee in his office fell off a colleague’s exercise equipment during her lunch break and fractured her elbow. Constantin reported the accident, a state investigator was called in, but no wrongdoing was found.

A series of stories that ran in both the San Diego Union-Tribune and the online Voice of San Diego painted a picture of an office in turmoil. An employee in a sworn statement made during the investigation, one story said, alleged that Constantin and his boss, Auditor Eduardo Luna, had told employees not to tell the investigator about previous workplace injuries.

Such statements led to a second investigation in which office employees charged that Luna and Constantin were determined to find out who had voiced complaints during the first investigation. A number of employees said they were working under hostile conditions.

The final report from the second investigation included employee statements such as, “The environment smacks of hypocrisy, and as a result of the latest series of events I no longer feel comfortable discussing anything with management regarding administrative issues or the audit process.” And, “When Mr. Luna and Mr. Constantin were asking other people about who was behind the investigation, I felt threatened and intimidated.”

Constantin and Luna were cleared of any wrongdoing but were admonished in the report’s conclusion. It said that while the two were entitled to their opinions regarding the investigation itself, they should not have gone after the employees who complained.

“Doing so reflects an intent to improperly influence all those who participated in the investigation, and has caused substantial fear of retaliation to an already susceptible work force,” the report concludes.

Constantin’s arrival comes just as many employees in Chico’s City Hall anonymously express concerns for their jobs and an uneasy working environment in the wake of the sudden and unexplained departures of Assistant City Manager John Rucker and Building and Development Services Director Fritz McKinley.

Constantin said he is relieved to be out of San Diego and happy to be in Chico, the home of his wife’s family.

“I knew I hadn’t done anything wrong,” he said. “It was just the way they handled it. So I started looking for positions up here.”

The situation in San Diego, he said, comes with the territory of the job he held.

“Anybody in a supervisory position who holds their staff accountable both in the private and the public sector will always face these kinds of challenges,” he said.

Constantin said the uneasy situation caused him to look for work elsewhere.

“I looked and tried to find positions in cities where I thought I could really make an impact,” he said. “I saw the assistant city manager job in Chico, applied for it, and was one of the two top finalists. I didn’t get the job and thought, ‘It’s over.’”

When Hennessy told City Manager Nakamura that she was leaving for Temecula, he called Constantin and offered him the job.

“I got a phone call that said, ‘Hey, would you consider this position, since our finance director is leaving?’ I said, ‘Yeah, absolutely.’ The next thing you know I was selected.”

Nakumara said he had followed the San Diego investigations and had made the City Council aware of them. He said controversy comes with the auditor’s job.

“I guess it’s no worse than being city manager,” he said.

According to his contract, Constantin is scheduled take over as director of administrative services, a new department that is part of Nakamura’s restructuring of the city government. The council gave final approval to the restructuring Tuesday night. Constantin was hired at a salary of $130,000 that will jump to $160,000 when he takes that job.

Constantin serves on the accrediting commission for community colleges, is a sworn reserve police officer for the city of Hayward, and in 1999, at age 23, ran unsuccessfully for state Senate, describing himself as a pro-choice, pro-environment and pro-education Republican.