Tool of the trade

Engineers, physicists and likely accountants, maintain a particular partiality for the type of calculator they use. This Monroe 7140 printing calculator sits prominently upon the desk of Finance Director Jackie Miller, who has been with the city for eight years.

EagleHerald staff writer

MARINETTE—Into her eighth year with the City of Marinette, the drum of daily life for City Finance Director Jackie Miller beats to the march of numbers, levy laws, grants, TIF districts, audits and pages upon pages of accounting entrees. All of which necessitate coordinated and punctilious attention to budgetary precision. And frequently, that work involves emersion into complex tracking and accounting of innumerable lists of numbers accompanied by the recurrent ‘clicks’ and motorized hum of the big printing calculator that sits upon her desk.

But when she pushes that work aside, life shines with the brightness of those with whom she works.

“For me, working with the people (of the city) and their cooperation is probably the most fulfilling part of the job,” she said from over a desk populated by ordered charts, stacks of invoices, receipts, accounting books and other reference guides to Wisconsin municipal financial code. “We have a really good team here as far as I am concerned.”

And for anyone who spends her day emerged amid that multitude of cross-referenced data points and dollar signs, occasionally lifting the eyes from the rows and columns of financial arithmetic provides a refreshing sense of how she found herself seated behind that desk, in Marinette City Hall.

Keen on numbers since her first business high school course, after graduating second in her class Miller took a job at Farmers & Merchants Bank & Trust in Marinette. She started out as a teller but in pursuing that penchant for numbers, she later transferred to the bank’s bookkeeping department.

At the same time, numbers, finances and economics permeated her life outside of work as she strove to furthered her education via night classes in financial management and ultimately accounting. She later received an associate’s degree from Northeast Wisconsin Technical College and went on to earn a 4-year degree in accounting and holds a minor in economics and in business administration.

After earning her degrees, she served over a decade working for the Stephenson Area Public School District in Michigan as an accountant. With a small staff, she performed a vast majority of the district’s accounting and financial services such as payroll, accounts payable, accounts receivable, audits, fixed asset reporting, borrowing and etc.

“After 15 years of doing that I had a pretty good background when applying for the job here,” she said. “(In Stephenson) I was pretty much a one-person accountant.”

In Marinette, she works with a small staff, just two other employees, Krista Martin and Jill Kohel. However, together the three of them operate a big financial ship. The area’s various large industries and businesses like Fincantieri Marinette Marine, in addition to the frequent state and federal grants and recognitions visited upon Marinette, growth and new investments for both the city and the community keep finance staff busy.

It keeps them sharp, too, as revealed by the success of the most recent annual audit (see “Officials optimistic after recent audit”).

“I like working with numbers,” Miller admitted. “At the end of the day, after the auditors visit, and I can say we didn’t have hardly any corrections. It tells me that my staff and my department heads are all working together to get the job done.”

In listening to her describe her appreciation for the job and the fulfilling challenges it offers, one begins to understand that her guiding light not only exists in her penchant for numbers, but also in the people, and the potential future that she sees develop each new day.

Some of that future emerges from the order of numbers, but much of it rests in the faces of her co-workers and in the words they express when describing Miller.

Martin, who overlooks payroll and benefits for the city, was hired by Miller just over five years ago.

“She is great … and she is really thorough,” Martin said. “If I don’t understand something … If I have any questions, I go to her and she usually has the answer.”

And, contrary to that stereotype, the Marinette accounting department is not full of introverted numbers people. Life beyond work reveals finance crew finds appreciation in the friendships they seek and the benefits those friendships impart.

“She likes to have fun and laugh and she is really caring,” said Martin, who once served in a volleyball league with her boss. “Her and I like to be around people and we are social. She is really a family-oriented person.”

Kohel, the finance department’s accounts payable clerk, has worked with Miller at the city since 2015. She pinpointed one source of Miller’s drive.

“She has a really good heart,” Kohel said. “She will do anything for anybody … When somebody comes to her, she stops what she is doing.”

Both Miller’s co-workers emphasized that their boss approaches the rest of her Marinette colleagues in the same way. She will put in the extra hours and she will do what it takes to finish the job right.

For example, unexpected expenses frequently arise for various city departments; vehicles break down or new technology comes along. In law enforcement as technology evolves to meet the social needs, not to mention the occasional line-of-duty mishap that damages equipment, budgetary issues can arise.

“In the scramble to find funds to replace (that equipment), (Miller) is vital,” said Marinette Police Chief John Mabry. “She is dedicated in doing the right thing, in the right way, all the time.”

And to that point, Miller acknowledges both the challenges an the rewards the work brings.

“There is a lot to this job,” she said. “It’s not just overseeing the payroll or the payables, … and the budgeting. It is helping the department heads determine where they are at in their budgets, trying to get the ‘best bang for your buck type-of-thing.’ All department heads work with each other. We’ve put over a million dollars into the fund balance since 2014 … I think the city runs very well, all the way around and the city has grown tremendously in the last six years. And I see future growth.”