Finance director takes over tomorrow

Urban to be confirmed by council, will replace longtime chief Dutterer


January 12, 2003|By Athima Chansanchai | Athima Chansanchai,SUN STAFF

Westminster's new money man finds that managing a $20 million-plus municipal budget isn't so different from working under the hood of a car.

Crunching numbers and restoring a 1977 Corvette both challenge Joseph D. Urban to solve problems within highly complex systems.

"It's the analytical process," said Urban, who officially takes over responsibility tomorrow for the city's books from 25-year veteran Stephen V. Dutterer. "I love learning how engines and mechanics work and being able to fix it."

Urban has been on the city's payroll since Jan. 2. His installation as Westminster's finance director is to be confirmed tomorrow by the city's Common Council. He takes over for Dutterer, who is retiring after years of adapting to deteriorating vision by, for example, becoming a whiz at doing math in his head.

"I think it's a critical position because the city government is getting more complex," said Councilman Thomas K. Ferguson, executive vice president for community development at BB&T. "Joe brings a tremendous breadth of knowledge that is going to be valuable to the city."

Besides being up to date on information technology and accounting standards, Urban has a master's in business administration and is a certified public accountant with 26 years of experience in untangling numbers, most recently at the University of Maryland, Baltimore as director of audit and policy management.

For 10 years he worked for the state, ending up as finance director for the Department of Public Safety and Correctional Services. In that job, he oversaw about 125 employees of 24 state agencies and managed an operating budget of more than $445 million.

In Westminster, Urban will supervise 10 people and continue to orient himself to the budget process, which will kick into high gear at the end of the month.

Urban, 50, grew up in Carney and is the grandson of Eastern European immigrants who settled in Baltimore. He lives in Mount Airy with his wife and son. In addition to the Corvette, which he plans to paint bright red, he likes to tinker with a 1972 Plymouth Roadrunner.

Friendly, sociable and colorful, Urban belies the stereotype of the bookish accountant.

At lunchtime, he said, he likes to walk the streets of downtown Westminster. While he checks out projects sprouting up from one end of the city to the other, people might check him out because of what he is wearing. In addition to the usual casual business attire, his accessories include a cowboy hat and Western boots. If it is cold, he will put on a long, Western-style drover coat.

"These boots are more comfortable than regular shoes, and if you wear Western boots, you have to wear the hat to go with it," he said.

Although he has been in public service before, it is the intimacy of a municipal government that appeals to Urban.

"The city of Westminster's given me the opportunity to have a direct impact with citizens," he said. "I like getting up close and personal with the city, working with the mayor and Common Council. This is a vibrant city that's seen a lot of growth."

Urban is taking over a department that has long been headed by Dutterer, who officially retires in June but has taken an approved leave because a hereditary condition has made him nearly blind and unable to continue working.

"It's affecting me to the point that I don't feel I can carry out responsibilities of the job at the level I feel is fair to the city," said Dutterer, 59. "All I see are shadows, light and dark."

For years, he has used equipment to magnify documents and software that converts typed text to speech. He said his condition has worsened in the past three years.

Dutterer's eye disease was detected more than 30 years ago, when he was in the military. To compensate, he honed his memorization skills and his ability to calculate percentages and other mathematics in his head, which he demonstrated regularly at council meetings.

In retirement, he plans to spend more time with his wife, Dorothy Ellen, an assistant principal at Westminster Elementary School, and his two grown children.

Dutterer said he also will continue to listen to books on tape and business-oriented television channels to keep up with the latest financial news.

After working for the city for 25 years, the past 20 as director of finance, and witnessing the city's budget more than double, Dutterer said it will be strange not being part of the process.

"I look to my retirement with mixed emotions," he said. "I rode out my career for as far as I could. But I'm very convinced that the city is in good hands with the experience and knowledge that Joe brings.

"He seems to grasp every facet we get into very quickly. I don't think he'll drop the ball."

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