When Anita Bingham took over as Camarillo's chief financial officer in 1990, the City Council and finance staff were still touchy over the loss of $25 million in reserves to high-risk investments a few years before.
Bingham not only assumed the task of helping get the once well-to-do city back on track, but she also took on the role of finance teacher to the City Council, morale-booster to her staff and an unofficial public relations representative for the city.
Camarillo's elected officials said they needed a finance director who could help them understand the city's finances because the 1987 fiasco occurred after a finance officer placed municipal funds in risky and inappropriate investments.
"She's understood from the beginning that Camarillo council members are a little paranoid about money and keeping track of money," Councilman David M. Smith said. "She bends over backward to make sure we understand the information she reports to us."
And Mayor Charlotte Craven said Bingham has restored a sense of pride in the finance department's 17-member staff, who felt that the public blamed them for the city's losses.
"The morale in the finance department had gotten extremely low," Craven said. "Anita turned it around. She really did."
Bingham, 45, said the most difficult part of her job is defending Camarillo to other finance officers at statewide conventions and similar gatherings.
"When I get out among my peers, they say, 'Why would you ever go to Camarillo?,' " said Bingham, who previously served as finance director in Del Mar in San Diego County.
So she becomes a city spokeswoman, pointing out how Camarillo has recovered from deficit spending in 1988 to the enviable position of operating with a $4.6-million reserve today.
Bingham and her staff have produced consistently excellent annual reports that have earned state and national awards, including the Certificate of Achievement for Excellence in Financial Reporting, which the Chicago-based Government Finance Officers Assn. bestowed upon the city last month, City Manager J. William Little said.
Little said Bingham and the awards she helped win have played a significant part in the financial recovery.
Such honors are crucial to the city's maintaining its "A" bond rating, which keeps interest costs low, Little said. "They really are the key."