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Briefings: Che Buono? Sarno Selects New Springfield Finance Maven…

Cathy Buono

Feel Good, Inc. (via Springfield City Hall)

Springfield Mayor Domenic Sarno has selected a top finance official in the Office of Community Development to lead the city’s overall finances. Cathy Buono was among three individuals a screening committee had forwarded to the mayor. She officially took over as chief administrative & financial officer Monday, five months after her predecessor Timothy Plante resigned.

The state created the CAFO position 15 years ago as it prepared to dissolve the Finance Control Board. The legislation also created a process and screening committee the mayor, City Council, School Committee and the state Secretary of Administration & Finance appoint. As the name implies, the job entails broad fiscal authority. However, it also makes appointments that affect the bottom line.

“As a lifelong resident of Springfield, I love working for my city and I am excited for this new opportunity,” Buono said in a statement on the mayor’s Facebook page. “I am looking forward to stepping into this position and continuing to build upon the great foundation that has already been built by Mayor Sarno, former CAFO TJ Plante, acting CAFO Pat Burns and the tremendous team in our Finance Department.”

Burns had been acting CAFO after Plante resigned. The mayor’s statement says Burns did not seek the job permanently. He will resume his duties as Comptroller.

Although the screening committee had public meetings, much of its deliberations and its interviews were behind closed doors. It was not immediately clear whom else the committee sent to Sarno.

Buono had been the director of administration and finance for the OCD. Since 2008—thanks to the same legislation that created the CAFO—the agency falls under the Chief Development Officer.

As city bureaucrats go, Buono was relatively low-profile if not anonymous. Every few years, she would lead outreach and development of the city’s Community Development Block Grant plan. She often presented CBDG allocations to the Council, too. The federal program is one of the largest pots of discretionary funds the city receives from Uncle Sam.

Buono held that position with the OCD for at least a decade. In his statement, the mayor touted her 33 years of city service and noted her work with the US Department of Housing & Urban Development.

“She has served as my administrations [sic] key contact for our local dealings with HUD, where she was instrumental in cultivating and enhancing our relationship with this federal agency and making sure all of the federal guidelines and requirements are met,” Sarno said. “She brings tremendous institutional and financial knowledge and will be able to ‘hit the ground running.’”

Sarno also praised her leadership, punctuality and experience with all levels of government.

T.J. Plante

Plante the predecessor. His decade as CAFO received wide praise. (via Springfield City Hall)

The mayor celebrated that Buono was the first woman to hold the role, although this is a sample size of three. Lee Erdmann had been the first CAFO, appointed in 2010. He served one three-year term and declined another. Sarno then chose Plante.

Both Erdmann and Plante had been relative outsiders. Erdmann had a prior—and ongoing—career in municipal management. Although the son-in-law of retired judge and city councilor Philip Contant, Plante was not a Springfield native. He only began working for the city in 2007, some 16 years after Buono.

Sarno has not shown any proclivity for fiscal incontinence. Moreover, he proudly invokes the city’s bond rating so often it is practically a Springfield politics drinking game.

Still, both Erdmann and Plante had to hold the line with the mayor. Plante once played down any political feature of the job as everything comes down to whether money exists or not. Yet, the absence of money is exactly what caused the fiscal crisis two decades ago. Now Buono is the principal bulwark against history repeating.

She appeared mindful of this as she turned to her first task, crafting the budget. It comes amid wobbly stated revenues and ongoing staffing challenges in the public and private sectors.

“The state is having challenges right now with revenue, so that could affect our budget, so my top priority is to get the budget passed,” she said according to WAMC. “And then, I think we need to work on the challenges around workforce in the city, not only with city hall and city employment, but I think with all of the city of Springfield.”