Debbie Knick, director of finance at Randolph-Macon Academy and a lifelong resident of Harris Hollow who’s “always been an admirer of the position” of Rappahannock County treasurer, will soon be doing more than admiring the job.
Chosen last week to fill a new deputy treasurer post from among 14 applicants, following five final-round interviews, the 46-year-old Knick will be appointed to the treasurer post when longtime office holder Frances Foster retires, which Foster announced last month she would do April 30.
“It’s been a position that I’ve worked towards for many, many, many years,” Knick said this week from her office at R-MA, where she’s worked since 2008. “It was a wonderful opportunity, so when I heard about the position for deputy treasurer coming up, of course it got my interest.”
Knick considered running for the treasurer position in 2012, but when Foster announced she’d seek one more term — Foster has had the job since six years before Knick was born — she decided against it. “I had always thought about running for treasurer, but never would I run against Frances,” said Knick. “Her 52 years of service I truly admire.”
Knick will fill out Foster’s term, and will have to stand for election for the treasurer post in November 2015.
“It’s been a busy year here,” Foster said in a brief interview Jan. 7, after her decision to retire became public, “with the new computer system, and we’ve had some problems with it.” She was referring to issues with the office’s new accounting software that made it impossible last fall to send out tax bills early — something Foster has long done every fall — forcing the county to borrow $1 million to help cover its payroll. “I guess I’m just getting tired of it,” she added.
Though the revenue commissioner’s office, which is responsible for property assessments and tax collection, has completed the transition to the county’s new Keystone financial accounting and tracking system, the treasurer’s office is still using the old system — or using both systems.
As to when the new system will be fully implemented in the treasurer’s office, county administrator John McCarthy said, “We’ll certainly give her [Knick] room to tell us. My guess is it will be sometime well before June 30/July 1, when the new fiscal year starts.”
Knick said she hasn’t specifically used Keystone, but has much experience transitioning from one accounting software to another.
McCarthy said there were 14 applicants for the deputy treasurer post, which carries a salary of $70,000 (the treasurer position itself is just over $74,000) and is one of three full-time positions in the office. Five applicants were interviewed by him, board of supervisors chair Roger Welch and Stonewell-Hawthorne supervisor Chris Parrish, county attorney Peter Luke and Foster.
Knick said she plans to start the job March 3.
Knick started working for Cheri and Martin Woodard’s former catalog emporium Faith Mountain when she was in high school, and eventually wound up in Faith Mountain’s business office. When she left 14 years later, two years after the Woodards had sold the businesses, she was the controller. She took a similar position at Madison-based Plow and Hearth and stayed for six years.
She’d managed to complete an associates degree program at Northern Virginia Community College while at Faith Mountain, and had studied nights at Shenandoah University as well. It was only after signing on at R-MA — where her son, Sean Michael, now a third classman at VMI, graduated with honors, and a pilot’s license, in 2012 — that she was able to earn a bachelor’s in business management through the University of Phoenix’s online program.
“It’s wonderful to be able to come back to the county where I live, and where I have lived all my life,” she said. “Just to be back home every day is going to be a wonderful opportunity.”
Knick fondly recalls growing up, and playing in the woods, on the same property where she and husband Sean Knick, a former state policeman who now works in private security, built their home — next door to her childhood home (and where her father, plumbing and electrical contractor Clyde Pullen, still lives).
Although among her priorities in the new position will be, she says, to look into “bringing the level of technology at the treasurer’s office up to the levels of surrounding areas,” including enabling online tax payments, she adds: “There’s nothing wrong with writing checks. Nothing wrong with that at all.”
Senior staff at R-MA were joking with her earlier the morning she spoke to us on the phone, Knick said, and were ribbing her about the rural lifestyle of her home county. “ ‘Oh yeah, Rappahannock,’ somebody said. ‘Do you guys have a traffic light down there yet?’ And I said ‘No. And that’s the way we want it.’
“We’re very fortunate.”