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Covington Finance Director Departs City Hall for Job at Kenton County

She rose quickly at Covington City Hall and now she is leaving.

Lisa Desmarais will depart her role as the City of Covington's finance and operations director to become the new director of information technology at Kenton County.

Desmarais's time at City Hall was marked by a change in fortune for Covington's finances. Following the arrest and imprisonment of former finance director Bob Due who stole nearly $800,000 from the treasury over 12 years, Desmarais was instrumental in implementing institutional changes related to checks and balances, operation systems, and oversight. 

Additionally, the city weathered a fiscal crisis and now finds itself in a solid position. For the first time in four decades, the city eliminated its tax anticipation note, a line of credit borrowed every year to help cover payroll since the 1970s. Moody's Investor Services put the city back in a positive position, and Covington now has $10.5 million in cash in its general fund.

For the first time since 2008, the City of Covington has re-established its minimum cash reserve fund with $3.76 million on hand and growing as a result of the fiscal year 2016 positive carryover of $4.7 million.

“Having over 30 years of experience in information technologies, data management, financial management, and operational effectiveness and efficiency, I’ve employed best practices to help the City improve its daily workflows through the implementation of a 21st century financial management system with paperless workflows and multiple layers of checks, balances and approvals," Desmarais said. "At the same time, with the work of a motivated staff, the City is now saving over $300,000 per year through competitive bidding of operational contracts with vendors."

Lisa and her husband, Norm, Desmarais have restored the famed Amos Shinkle House in Covington's Licking Riverside neighborhood. Norm Desmarais is a partner at TiER1 Performance Solutions, a global company based at the RiverCenter towers. He was also co-chairman of the COC 200 bicentennial celebration.

As Lisa Desmarais departs for a new role in government, she remarks that she hopes Covington's positive growth continues.

“My hope for Covington, a city I live in and have invested in, is that its leadership remains steadfast in its efforts toward growth, professionalism, fiscal responsibility, and commitment to transparency," she told The River City News. "Returning to a ‘good ole boy’ system of government only produces a cancer that eats away at talented staff and prevents the necessary infusion of fresh-thinking, professional people Covington needs to succeed."

City Manager Larry Klein said that it will be difficult to replace Desmarais. 

"Lisa's departure is a huge loss for the citizens of Covington," Klein said. "The amount of knowledge she brings to this job, her professionalism is incredible, she's a resident, and she and her husband own a major business in town.

"She has given a lot to the city. She is an all-in person when she does a job and she has been all-in from day one here." 

Desmarais's role evolved with the needs of the city. She was first brought on as the city's IT manager in March 2014 and later that year became operations director. Ultimately she assumed the role of finance director, too.

Kenton County Judge/Executive Kris Knochelmann, who is hiring Desmarais by executive order at Tuesday night's Fiscal Court meeting in Independence, is excited to have her join the team. She replaces retiring IT director Fred McKinley.

"We have got major projects ahead of us over the next six to eighteen months," Knochelmann said, noting the upgraded police radios, new occupational license and accounting software, and an eventual move from the current Kenton County Administration Building to a restored Bavarian Brewery Building on the other side of downtown. "We had a big pool, about fifteen to twenty candidates applied, and if you look at her expertise from the private sector and the City of Covington, it was almost a perfect fit. Really, she was almost an unbeatable applicant."

Both Desmaraises were appointed to university boards by Governor Matt Bevin, with Norm put on the Northern Kentucky University Board of Regents and Lisa appointed to the Kentucky Community and Technical College System (KCTCS) Board of Regents.

“I look forward to the opportunity to work with the excellent team of forward-thinking leaders at Kenton County," Desmarais said. "As the new Director of Information Technology, I will help the County achieve its many goals, including replacement of aging technology systems as well as implementation of the new County offices at the former Bavarian Brewery site in Covington”.

-Michael Monks, editor & publisher