How coronavirus changed Terry Stone's tenure as GFOA president

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`When Terry Stone took over as president of the Government Finance Officers Association a year ago, no one could foresee the health pandemic that would define her term.

“Up until a few months ago, the GFOA was on a roll,” Stone said in her opening statement at the group's annual business meeting.

Membership had grown to surpass 21,000. Social media and other methods of engagement were expanding. The new code of ethics had been adopted by 11 states. Committees were working on best practices recommendations. The foundation work on GFOA’s thriving communities project was adding case studies and reports.

“Then, in March, everything changed,” she said, describing the impact of COVID-19 as akin to a category 5 hurricane.

Since the pandemic forced non-essential businesses to shut down, GFOA staff has offered advice to government finance officers to help them navigate the emergency, including a fiscal first aid initiative, papers and webinars on how to respond to COVID-19 issues.

GFOA some weeks ago abandoned its plans for holding its massive annual conference, scheduled for New Orleans, instead holding educational sessions and industry updates online, with more than 40 sessions stretched over two weeks.

“The GFOA staff has been wonderful, very responsive and able to turn on a dime,” Stone said in an interview with The Bond Buyer, crediting its employees with “doing all the heavy lifting.”

The 2,700 GFOA members registered for the virtual conference, which opened Monday, is down from the 4,305 delegates from the United States and Canada who attended the 2019 conference in Los Angeles.

GFOA's outgoing president, Terry Stone, traveled to Gothenburg, Sweden last November to give a presentation on GFOA’s Financial Foundation for Thriving Communities to a sister organization’s convention known as at the Kvalitetsmässan.

The sessions, hosted by eading practitioners, recognized industry experts and researchers, are being livestreamed between May 18 and June 26.

The just over 40 sessions, ares fewer than in past, but, Stone said, the topics are more pointed and timely.

By stretching the sessions out over two weeks, when the conference ordinarily lasts three and a half days, is appropriate, she said, because it allows finance officers to work around those sessions while also meeting their increased workplace demands related to the pandemic.

“We are just so busy responding to the pandemic and the impact on our revenues and expenditures, many of us cannot take a full three days to be in conference sessions,” said Stone.

In her position as assistant superintendent for business and operations for Hanover County Public Schools in Virginia, Stone’s biggest challenge has been balancing the annual district budget after it had been approved in late February.

“We reduced the budget by $5.5 million out of a $190 million budget,” she said. “For us, that was pretty significant.” The district was able to avoid layoffs for the next school year.

In the current school year, the district has been able to implement a distance learning program that includes internet hotspots in the parking lots of its four high schools to supplement the wi-fi service in local library parking lots for families without Internet service at home.

Stone said state lottery proceeds and state sales tax revenue, both of which help fund K through 12 education in Virginia, remain budgetary unknowns for the coming school year.

“We went back and looked at what happened during the Great Recession,” said Stone. “But this is not an exact science and the impact on revenues happened so quickly.”

GFOA members around the country are finding themselves making similar sudden budget adjustments.

Prior to the pandemic, Stone was able to enjoy her GFOA presidency by attending state GFOA conventions in Ohio, New England and a couple of other states in addition to traveling to Gothenburg, Sweden, to give a presentation on GFOA’s Financial Foundation for Thriving Communities to a sister organization’s convention, known as at the Kvalitetsmässan.

Stone was the first finance officer from a school district to serve as GFOA president. GFOA had a previous president from the higher education sector.

Only about 8.5% of GFOA’s individual members and 9% of its organizational members are from school districts.

Stone, who has a bachelor’s degree in accounting from Virginia Commonwealth University and is a certified public accountant, has been a GFOA member for 21 years and worked for 20 years for Hanover County government before switching over to the schools.

She previously served on GFOA’s Committee on Retirement and Benefits Administration (2015–2018) and Committee on Treasury and Investment Management (2005–2013; chair, 2011–2013); GFOA’s Executive Board (2015–2018); and GFOA’s Nominating Committee (2013–2014).

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