Laura Allen passes the GFOA baton

Bonds

Former Government Finance Officers Association President Laura Allen is leaving office during a time of immense transition, as the organization looks to find new ways to engage with their 24,000 members across the United States and Canada.

Allen has passed the baton off to Tanya Garost, who assumed the role June 11 and she will be the one to implement this new plan.

“We’re going to be looking to make some changes to our membership structure because we believe that the current arrangement isn’t really meeting the needs of our members and is acting as a barrier, especially to folks that are new to the profession or have just recently joined,” Allen said.

Laura Allen began a one-year term as president of the Government Finance Officers Association in May 2023.

As part of those efforts, Allen has over the past year helped create an on-demand learning platform for members to learn and engage with on their own time.

“We believe that that will be a really convenient and affordable option for everybody in the finance department, not just the finance director or the deputy, but the accountant and the newly-hired person as well,” Allen said.

In her speech at this year’s GFOA annual conference, Allen also highlighted the efforts the organization is making to get feedback from their members, gathering data and interviews to get a sense of what GFOA members feel are the most pressing issues.

When Allen took the reins a year ago, she said her first order of business was to ensure all GFOA members have adequate access to the federal pandemic aid, whether that be in the form of money or information. Allen thinks those efforts went very well and applauded the GFOA’s federal liaison center with being able to distill very complicated information to members in a manner that’s easy for most to understand.

One of the most pervasive challenges gripping the public finance profession is the lack of talent to go around, which was one of her biggest challenges as president.

“We’ve really done a lot of work addressing what our members have been telling us for the last couple of years has been the number one challenge they face, which is attracting and retaining talent to the public finance workforce,” Allen said. “There’s a lot of vacancies, communities, large, medium and small are having trouble finding finance professionals or pulling people into the public finance professions.”

Overall Allen was pleased with the efforts she and the group made over the last year and looks forward to continuing to engage with GFOA.

“I feel really good about it,” Allen said. “The executive board and the staff really worked effectively this past year to continue to address the needs of our members which changes from time to time.”

Besides her tenure as president, Allen has worked for over thirty years in local governments, serving eleven years at the executive level in California and most recently specializing in small communities in Maryland.

She began her career as an assistant transportation planner and analyst for AC Transit, an Oakland-based public transit agency. She then became a senior management analyst for the City of Berkeley from 2000 to 2005, then moving on to become assistant city manager for the Town of Colma before being promoted to city manager after 3 years.

It was at a conference in San Francisco where she first began to see the potentials of GFOA and first felt that she found a group of people that thought like she did.

From there Allen went on to become the town administrator for the City of Berlin, Maryland, from 2013 to 2019 and then in 2019, took on a role for seven months as city treasurer for the City of Greenbelt, Maryland, before moving on to interim town manager for Berwyn Heights, Maryland. She now serves as budget analyst III, capital budgeting for the Maryland Department of Budget and Management.

In her capacity as a GFOA member, Allen has also served as a reviewer for the Distinguished Budget Presentation Award program for over twelve years, become a member of GFOA’s Certified Public Finance Officers Program in 2012, joined the Committee on Economic Development and Capital Planning in 2013, became vice chair of that in 2016 and joined the GFOA’s executive board in 2019

She has also presented at many GFOA conferences, speaking on such topics as capital planning, infrastructure, and creative placemaking for small communities. She co-authored What Governments Look for in a CFO, published in the Government Finance Review in 2016.

She holds a master’s degree in public administration from the University of Nevada, Reno, where she also got her bachelor’s degree in political science and economics. She is a graduate of the Leadership ICMA and the Senior Executive Institute at the University of Virginia, Darden Graduate School of Business and is the past president of the Maryland City/County Management Association.

As someone who has been fond of the efforts GFOA has made in her own career and for the public finance profession as a whole, she looks forward to seeing where the organization goes in the coming years, under new leadership.

“I have tremendous respect for Tanya’s leadership abilities. I think she’ll bring a slightly different perspective, because she comes from Canada but I welcome that. Our Canadian members are an important aspect of our membership group,” Allen said. “I’m excited to see how she leads.”

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