After doing double duty as both finance director and village administrator of North Riverside for the past two years, Sue Scarpiniti has hired someone who will assume the role of finance director while also taking on other administrative and supervisory duties.
Ryan Lawler, who spent the last seven years as a consultant and analyst with the Government Finance Officers Association (GFOA) after nearly four years as an analyst and manager in the city of Dallas budget office, started work at the Village Commons on Dec. 16.
A Bolingbrook native who holds a bachelor’s degree in history and political science and a master’s degree in public administration from the University of Kansas, Lawler is also in the midst of completing an MBA at University of Chicago’s Booth School of Business.
He brings not only municipal finance experience to the job, but also a strong knowledge and understanding of financial best practices.
“What set Ryan apart was his extensive experience at GFOA, where he looked across all areas of municipal finance. He’s seen a wealth of different applications of best practices across the country,” said Scarpiniti.
At GFOA, Lawler advised municipal governments across the nation, both small and large, that wanted to change their policies and procedures when it came to finance. While the GFOA is probably best known for the awards it gives to local officials whose financial reports meet their exacting standards, it is a training and education resource for local governments seeking to tighten their financial controls and practices.
The job with the GFOA, however, saw Lawler on the road a good deal of time, something he wanted to rein in as a new father.
“I was traveling a ton,” said Lawler, who also admitted to “getting the itch” to return to municipal government, which had been his focus of study in college and in graduate school.
In high school he’d done internships in the state House and Senate as well as in Washington, D.C., but his interests always returned to local government, Lawler said.
While working for the city of Dallas from 2010-14, Lawler was a budget analyst focusing on capital funding/debt and later on fire department purchasing and procurement.
Wishing to move closer to home, Lawler landed a job in Chicago as a consultant with the GFOA, where he had worked since 2014.
“I didn’t know what to expect, but I enjoyed the consulting and advisory work,” Lawler said.
North Riverside was one of just two municipal jobs Lawler was considering for his move back into the public sector, and he said Scarpiniti sold him on her vision for the organization she wanted to build.
“She has a ton of good ideas, but there hasn’t been the time to implement them,” Lawler said. “I see my role as someone to help push those ideas out and help them develop.”
Scarpiniti last year had talked about hiring both a finance director and a new administrator who would serve as her top assistant. In Lawler, she saw the opportunity to create a hybrid position combining those roles.
Lawler’s salary reflects that higher level of responsibility as well as his past experience and education. He’ll be paid $120,000, according to Scarpiniti.
While Lawler has experience in government finance, he is not a CPA. Scarpiniti plans to hire an accountant to perform the daily financial tasks that normally amounted to half the job when she served as finance director.
Lawler can then work alongside Scarpiniti, who can serve as his mentor regarding North Riverside finance and help her with higher level budgeting and grant writing as well as tax levy and pension issues that face the village.
His most immediate task will be finalizing the village’s 2020-21 financial audit, for which the village has been granted an extension, said Scarpiniti. Soon after, the two will begin tackling the 2022-23 budget.
The way North Riverside has approached the budget process and its timing have long been a sore point for Scarpiniti. With a new mayor and supportive board of trustees, Scarpiniti wants to begin changing that approach.
“I’m looking to put in new procedures to move more expeditiously, so that in one or two cycles we can complete the requirements to modify that and work off an operating budget adopted prior to the start of the fiscal year,” Scarpiniti said.
For various reasons, often political, past North Riverside village boards have consistently completed the budget/appropriations process after the fiscal year has already begun, often at the statutory deadline for doing so, which is the end of the first quarter.
“We’ve made great strides and have modified our appropriations ordinance so it mirrors the budget,” Scarpiniti said. “But we’ve never approved a budget prior to the start of the fiscal year.”