Thursday, August 27, 2009

Auditor Strums as City Burns

City Auditor Trent Williams’ first love is music, not accounting. He doesn’t have a degree in business or accounting but in Music Education, from Morehead State U. That may be why the city’s finances have grown increasingly chaotic and discordant in the nearly ten years he has been City Auditor. Instead of keeping track of bank notes, his mind has been on musical notes.

Williams’ biography is very musical. He played in the band at East High School and continues to be passionate about marching bands. In the 1980s he was a member of the Crossman Drum and Bugle Corps. He likes to travel to international drum corps competitions. He also performs with the Portsmouth Community Orchestra. “It’s just so much fun to continue something you did every day in high school and college,” he told the Scioto Voice back in 2005, when he made an unsuccessful run for mayor. That Voice story was titled “Williams Budgets Life Along with City.” Music, along with politics and sports, takes up so much of his time, he told the Voice, that he hardly has any left for his family. “They take up a lot of my personal life,” he said, but that was OK with him. But obviously, budgeting his life, like budgeting the city, is a very stressful challenge.

In a campaign debate sponsored by the League of Women Voters back in 2003, Williams said, “I’ve taken a hands-on approach to being auditor,” but what he appears to have had his hands on most as auditor is not the city budget but his guitar. His rival in that 2003 race said the city was facing a $951,328 deficit, which Williams did not deny. When facing a huge deficit, Williams turns into a jittery Johnny Guitar. In January 2008, a nervous Williams said in a council meeting the city faced a possible $1 million dollar deficit, and recently he admitted the city faced a potential $1.1 million dollar deficit. But when pressed about these deficits, the nervous Williams says don’t panic, a way will be found to deal with them. Unfortunately, “creative bookkeeping, involving smoke and mirrors, or pulling fast ones, has been the way he usually deals with them. But 2009 might turn out to be a lights out year when he and the city will have to face the music.

Williams during 2005 unsuccessful campaign for mayor

I heard some years ago that the secretaries keep the Auditor’s Office running, that while they are busy in the outer office, Williams is holed up in his private office, playing his guitar. That rumor was given some credence by the interview with the Scioto Voice back in 2005. The Voice reported, “handling the city’s finances can be daunting and stressful. That is when Williams takes a break with one of his favorite hobbies. In his office rests a guitar in case his workload gets the better of him.” Williams told the Voice, “If I need to pound off some stress, I use the guitar.” Perhaps we should be thankful. Another man under great stress, when his work gets the better of him, might take to drink or drugs. Our city auditor takes to his guitar. As the city’s financial situation has grown increasingly bleaker in the last few years, we can assume he has taken more and more to his guitar. Nero played the harp, not the guitar, but you get the picture. As Portsmouth goes up in flames financially, our stressed-out city auditor strums his guitar.

Stressed-out Auditor in office, without guitar