After several years of upheaval in its finance department, the Town of Nashville is getting back on track and is looking for a new finance director.

Samantha Sanchez, the town’s latest finance director, resigned effective Sept. 17. She had served in the position full-time for nearly two years but is moving on to a new position in the finance department for the Town of Wake Forest, Nashville Town Manager Randy Lansing said in a recent interview.

“She has been an excellent finance director, and we really hate to lose her,” Lansing said. “We had a lot of stuff on the books that needed to be cleaned up. Ms. Sanchez took time to work with the auditor and get us back on track.”

Nashville is now off the Local Government Commission Watchlist after spending the last several years under scrutiny. In a recent statement, State Treasurer Dale Folwell announced that the Local Government Commission had removed 38 entities from its Unit Assistance List, a monitoring device that flags and tracks local governments and public authorities battling financial and governance challenges.

The Town of Nashville was among the 27 towns, eight counties and three utility districts commended for their progress. These entities, the statement said, “had made such significant improvements that they were no longer included on the list.”

“This is incredibly good news for those local governments because it brings stability to their operations,” Folwell said in the statement. “By enhancing governance, transparency and stewardship of the money entrusted to them, these units have demonstrated a path forward that others can model.”

The town had faced censure for certain accounting practices that placed it on the watch list. In a letter dated Jan. 28, 2020, the commission noted improvement but still had concerns.

“The staff of the Local Government Commission analyzed the audited financial statements of the Town of Nashville for the fiscal year ended June 30, 2019,” the letter stated. “We note that the municipality has made progress. Our office has received the audit for the fiscal year ended June 30, 2019 … We commend the governing board, staff and citizens for this improvement. However, there are still serious financial and operational problems that must be addressed in order to further your efforts to improve the municipality’s financial operations.”

The letter noted special concerns about the way transfers were made from the town’s water and sewer fund, noting that some were unbudgeted transfers made contrary to state law.

There was also concern about the timeliness of record-keeping and reports during the recent period of upheaval in the Nashville Finance Department.

“We noted various weaknesses concerning your municipality’s internal controls that were communicated in writing to you by the auditor,” the letter stated. “We are especially concerned that the auditor reported as a material weakness that reconciliations of significant accounts were not performed in a timely manner. This item noted by the auditor was identified to assist the Board in improving the municipality’s overall accounting system. We note that you have developed a corrective action plan to eliminate these weaknesses. The corrective action plan that was identified was inadequate.”

At that point, the auditor’s office acknowledged that recent staff issues in the finance department were part of the problem but were not an excuse.

“Despite turnover within staff, bank reconciliations should be reconciled correctly to the general ledger monthly. We encourage the board to monitor the municipality’s progress in implementing this plan and urge you to develop a corrective action plan to eliminate the other items identified by the auditor,” the letter stated.

The town has faced a great deal of turnover in the finance department since former finance director Linda Modlin was fired at roughly the same time that former town manager Hank Raper was dismissed in June 2018. Modlin served as the town’s finance director from Aug. 19, 2014, to June 29, 2018, but was on administrative leave for the last few weeks of her tenure.

According to information provided by Nashville Human Resource Director Lou Bunch, Lynne Hobbs served briefly as interim deputy finance director from June 4, 2018, until Melonie Bryan was hired to serve as interim finance director on July 30, 2018. Hobbs now is a Nashville town councilwoman.

Bryan served as the town’s interim finance director for the next year. During this time, Russell Langley was hired as the assistant finance director on Feb. 26, 2019, and was trained with the intention of having him take on the position of finance director following a probation period.

However, Langley resigned on Aug. 26, 2019, before assuming the role, Bunch said.

Sanchez was hired on Sept. 30, 2019, and has served as the town’s finance director ever since. During that time, she was largely responsible for the town’s removal from the LGC watch list, Lansing said.

The town is now advertising for a new finance director. According to the ad posted by the town on its website, town officials are looking for someone who “is seeking an experienced professional with strong interpersonal and financial competency skills to oversee the city’s $15 million budget.”

The town also is looking for someone with three to five years of “progressively responsible governmental accounting and fiscal administration experience, preferably in a local government setting; and supervisory experience.”

The salary range offered for the position is $65,000 to $97,418. For more information or to apply, go to the town’s website.