First Fidelity Securities Group's municipal finance chief has left the firm's New Jersey office, the second key public finance official to do so within the last month.

George Tuttle, a senior vice president, left First Fidelity's Newark office last week, a spokesman for the firm confirmed this week.

"Mr. Tuttle is no longer with First Fidelity," the spokesman said. "Our policy is not to comment on people who leave the company. I will confirm that he is no longer with First Fidelity, but that's it."

No successor has been named, the spokesman said, adding that Tuttle's duties "are being reassigned within the public finance area." The spokesman declined to say how long Tuttle had been with the company.

Tuttle could not be reached for comment.

On Nov. 18, municipal market veteran Alexander S. Williams, who spent 24 years with First Fidelity and served most recently as the firm's executive vice president, suddenly retired as head of municipal trading and banking.

Michael E. Basham, a former debt official at the Treasury Department and a managing director at Smith Barney Inc., was named as Williams' successor on Nov. 21.

An underwriter involved in New Jersey bond issuance said the sudden departure of Williams was surprising, considering that he had hired a new group of finance professionals for First Fidelity's Philadelphia office only six months ago.

The underwriter said the departures of Williams and Tuttle may indicate that First Fidelity plans to reduce its public finance efforts.

However, a professional in First Fidelity's Philadelphia office said yesterday: "We're still operating in Philadelphia, and the operation in public finance is still going on in Newark. We're fully functioning."

In fact, some market sources said that First Fidelity, a St. Louis-based firm, is looking to expand its capital markets coverage throughout the Eastern region.

Basham has been chosen to oversee municipal underwriting, sales, and trading in this expansion, sources said. In addition, they said the firm plans to hire more investment bankers, public finance analysts, municipal traders, taxable fixed-income executives, and institutional and retail sales staff members.

Basham also was unavailable for comment yesterday.

In sales of New Jersey bonds so far this year, First Fidelity Securities Group ranks third among senior managers for competitive sales and fourth for negotiated sales. As of the end of November, the firm was senior manager on 17 negotiated issues totaling $152.8 million and 38 competitive issues totaling $350.1 million, according to Securities Data Co.

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