ATLANTA -- Atlanta's top finance official, Michael Bell, will be leaving city hall at the end of the year.
Last Thursday, Mayor Bill Campbell announced that Bell had resigned effective Dec. 31, and will be succeeded by Kathy J. White, formerly vice president and treasurer at the Tennessee Valley Authority in Knoxville.
"Mike has a keen intellect and good financial management skills," said Campbell. "He has done a fine job for Atlanta during his stint as chief financial officer."
In an interview, Bell said he was leaving to pursue his public finance career in the private sector.
The Louisiana native had been the city's finance chief since October of 1991, when he was brought in by then-Mayor Maynard Jackson to replace Richard Anderson. Campbell retained Bell after succeeding Jackson as mayor this January.
Before joining the city, Bell was an investment banker for eight years, most recently as senior vice president in public finance at Kemper Securities Group in Chicago. At Kemper, he specialized in airport finance.
Bell's successor, Kathy White, joined the Tennessee Valley Authority in 1970. She then rose through a series of management positions, successively overseeing the authority's cash position, its treasury services, finance department, and corporate budgets.
In 1992, White was named vice president and treasurer of the authority, with responsibilities for $25 billion in debt and $5 billion in annual cash flow. Since that time, she has managed issuance of over $12 billion in intermediate and long-term debt, and has established a medium-term note facility to give the agency more funding flexibility.
White "brings more than 20 years of financial experience to the position of CFO," Campbell said. "She has worked in every aspect of a fiscal operation and will provide the type of administrative and strategic oversight required."
In an interview, White said she will begin her new job today to allow for a period of transition. She said she does not currently plan any staff changes.
Campbell said he will ask for city council confirmation of White as chief financial officer in January. No opposition is expected, council sources said Friday.
In Atlanta, the top finance official reports to both the mayor and city council.
The three years that Bell served Atlanta were eventful ones for the city's finances.
When he first came on board, Atlanta faced a $15 million operating deficit that had forced the city to issue its first-ever short-term debt issue for cash flow purposes. Ratings agencies, meanwhile, were intensely scrutinizing a plan to refinance debt sold to fund Underground Atlanta, an entertainment district in the downtown area.
Since that time, the city's finances have improved -- and it has maintained its double-A credit rating. Atlanta began its current fiscal year on Jan. 1 with a cash carryforward of $24 million, and expects to increase that surplus to about $34 million at the end of the year.
During Bell's tenure, the city sold a significant amount of debt, most recently a $88.1 million general obligation bond sale in August. In April of this year, it issued $275 million of revenue bonds to fund completion of a new international terminal at the city's airport.
"Overall, the financial performance of the city in the last three years has been one of its strong suits," said David Alter, an assistant vice president at Moody's Investors Service.
Bell was also instrumental in initiating an investigation in June into the management of $1.3 billion of fixed-income investments held by the city. The mayor launched the probe after reviewing analyses of the portfolio's activity in 1993.
The inquiry revealed that one investment firm, Pryor, McClendon, Counts and Co., handled the lion's share of securities -- excluding repurchase agreements -- traded that year. It also revelaed that the city investment officials had permitted the firm to execute trades without first taking documented bids from other broker-dealers, in apparent violation of city guidelines.
Bell said he expects a final report on the investigation to be released by the end of the year.
"These were practices that have been an issue since before I became CFO," he said. "It is important that they have been brought to public light."
Pryor McClendon has denied any impropriety in the matter.