SOUTH KINGSTOWN, R.I. — South Kingstown Town Manager Robert Zarnetske announced on Monday that Zachary Saul, the chief financial officer for the state’s Office of the Postsecondary Commissioner, will become South Kingstown’s next director of finance.
Saul’s first day of work is expected to be Aug. 5, and he’ll also serve as the town’s chief financial officer. He succeeds Patricia Sunderland, who left in April to become finance director in East Greenwich.
Saul is a South Kingstown resident and the son-in-law of Town Council member Deborah Kelso.
“Zack is going to be a great addition to the team here in Town Hall,” Zarnetske said in announcing the move. “He has distinguished himself as a creative and innovative financial leader who works well with people and understands that public finance is about building a better future for the public we serve.”
Saul’s main responsibilities will include maintaining the town’s accounting, budgeting and financial management systems. In addition, he’ll serve as an expert on the town’s long-range fiscal and tax programs and advise Zarnetske on strategies to maintain high-quality town services and reduce the financial burden on local taxpayers.
“I am excited to join a talented finance team and continue to uphold the town’s excellent reputation for financial management and budget preparation,” Saul said in a statement. “As a resident of the town, I was impressed with the management of the town’s operations. It was the town’s sound financial management and desire to evolve as times change that was a deciding factor in accepting this position.”
Saul holds a master’s degree in business administration from Salve Regina University, an executive leadership certificate from Cornell University and a bachelor’s degree in accountancy from George Washington University.
In his current state position, he oversees financial administration, operations, strategic financial planning and program evaluation for the Office of Postsecondary Commissioner. As chief financial officer, he serves as the fiscal advisor to the Council on Postsecondary Education.
Before joining the OPC, he was chief financial officer of the Employees’ Retirement System of Rhode Island from February 2007 to April 2019.
There, he was responsible for the financial and administrative operations and information technology divisions of the $8 billion public pension trust fund. ERSRI administers the retirement, survivor and disability benefits for state employees, public school teachers, judges, state police, participating municipal police and fire employees and general employees of participating municipalities.
Saul was chosen after a broad regional search and selected from a pool of well-qualified applicants, Zarnetske said.
He called Saul the most highly-qualified candidate interviewed for the job.
“He is truly an impressive individual. Everybody who was on the interview team walked away from the interview saying, ‘Yes he’s qualified.’”
One interview team member brought in from outside the town also told Zarnetske she had tried to hire Saul in the past.
Addressing concerns from a resident about Saul’s familial ties to a member of town government, Zarnetske said an ethics opinion was requested prior to the hire being made.
Also, when it became apparent that a candidate was related to a council member, Zarnetske said he immediately asked the town’s attorney if it was a disqualifying factor, and was told no. He was advised not to speak to any member of the council about qualifications or other criteria, but only decide based on the candidate’s qualifications.
“There was nothing in my mind about trying to curry favor with anyone,” he said. “My sole criterion for hiring a finance director was, ‘Is this person going to be the best finance director for the community that I can find in the marketplace today?’ The answer to that question was yes.”
Also during Monday’s Town Council meeting, the council approved the transfer of a liquor license from Anchor Pete’s to Cantina del Rio.
Anchor Pete’s closed and was sold after police arrested more than a dozen people at the 515 Kingstown Road location in April for underage drinking and the restaurant was penalized. The council imposed fines and suspended Anchor Pete’s liquor license for 10 days as punishment, and later fined it again and curtailed the hours it could serve alcohol. The restaurant initially opened in December.
Cantina del Rio operates a Mexican restaurant at a Warwick location and its owners have been running restaurants for 25 years.
“There’s no track record of problems for this transferee,” Solicitor Michael Ursillo said.