Q&A: Financial management more than numbers game for Jay Chapa

A. Lee Graham lgraham@bizpress.net

Jay Chapa is no stranger to Fort Worth finance. As director of the city’s Housing and Economic Development Department, Chapa has seen his share of budgets and spreadsheets. But when Horatio Porter announced his resignation as chief financial officer on May 1, Chapa stepped in and gained an entirely new appreciation of numbers and financial planning. Since taking on the position in addition to his other city job, Chapa, 47, has led the department overseeing the city’s financial administration. The Financial Management Services Department is broken into four divisions: administration, accounting, purchasing and treasury.

In his 16 years with the city, Chapa has had leadership positions in economic development, water and budget departments. As director for housing and economic development, Chapa’s responsibilities run deep: business retention and recruitment, housing development, grants management, the city’s real property division, small-business development, the city’s business diversity office, and all incentive programs, including tax abatement and tax increment financing. But he keeps calm amid such duties, as he does with his current financial management role. Chapa discovered Fort Worth while earning a master’s degree in public administration from the University of North Texas. He grew up in the Rio Grande Valley and graduated from Mercedes High School in the Hidalgo County town of Mercedes. He lives in North Fort Worth with his wife, Evalis, and daughter, Emilia, 13.

Have you gotten used to pulling double duty? You don’t get used to it; you just put in more hours. I have good help with the economic development side with Cynthia [Garcia, Housing and Economic Development Department assistant director] as interim director.

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So you still fill your regular position, as least somewhat? Yeah, 10 to 20 percent of my week is still issues tied to housing and economic development.

When you heard that Horatio Porter was resigning, did you plan on seeking his position? I did not plan on seeking it. I heard about it, and a couple of days later, Fernando Costa [an assistant city manager], who was my boss at the time, set up a meeting with me quickly and asked me if I would consider doing it. I don’t know if it was out of the blue; I heard they were looking to find someone to do an interim [period].

Is serving as acting director of financial management services what you expected, or is the position entirely different than you thought? It’s about what I expected. I’ve been with the city quite a while, and it started with the budget office and three years as assistant director over all financial aspects of the water department, so I had a good idea of what’s involved in the overall department over here. It’s getting up to speed on all the issues and who does what.

What are your duties in the new role? Describe a typical day. Under Horatio – when he came in as financial management services director, or CFO – there was a merger of the management side and the budget office. I’m over all those – the budget piece and capital budgeting and the city’s bond financing as well as purchasing, accounting, payroll and all of that stuff.

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In other words, you’re not doing too much. (laughs) Yeah.

Are the fiscal budget and bond election the biggest issues? Yes, in the first four weeks, 50 percent of my time was tied to either getting up to speed on the capital bond election information, on the presentation I had to make, and I also was immersed in the budget issue and the gap.

Going back a ways, what led you from BNSF to city employment? [Chapa worked from 2002 to 2005 as director of public policy at BNSF Railway.] I was with the city first. I was assistant director at the water department, and then in 1994 in the budget office and then I moved to economic development. Then I became assistant director of the water department over IT [information technology], customer service, finance, etc. when I ended up talking to BNSF.

What led you back to the city? It was Charles Boswell, the then-city manager who asked me about going back to the city in economic development. The BNSF job [involved] traveling a lot and I really liked working for BNSF, but the city ended up making me an offer to join economic development.

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What traits do you bring to the table to help city operations? Any particular strengths or talents? Problem solving. I’m good at working with people, coming up with solutions. I have an ability to put teams together that are successful and having a critical eye for things.

Like what? Making sure we do good work on analysis to make good recommendations for people applying for [financial] analysis and coming up with recommendations.

Assuming you sometimes find time away from the office, how do you enjoy those rare hours? Golf when I can. And time with my daughter and her volleyball. What I tell people is I’m never bored. There’s always some kind of issue to deal with. I always try to concentrate on making sure we’re doing the best we can for the citizens and the city council.