Grosse Pointe Farms Controller/Treasurer Debra Peck Lichtenberg, who recently left the position to become Royal Oak’s new finance director, helped modernize the city’s Finance Department during her tenure.

Grosse Pointe Farms Controller/Treasurer Debra Peck Lichtenberg, who recently left the position to become Royal Oak’s new finance director, helped modernize the city’s Finance Department during her tenure.

Photo by K. Michelle Moran

Grosse Pointe Farms’ former finance director brought best practices to city

By: K. Michelle Moran | Grosse Pointe Times | Published June 22, 2022

GROSSE POINTE FARMS — When Debra Peck Lichtenberg succeeded John Lamerato as the city controller and treasurer in Grosse Pointe Farms in June 2017, she had big shoes to fill. Lamerato had created years’ worth of detailed, award-winning, reader-friendly budgets, as well as an annual award-winning, information-packed pamphlet that summed up the city’s finances.

But not only would Peck Lichtenberg live up to the standards set by her predecessor, she would go on to exceed them. So it probably shouldn’t come as a surprise that, when she announced she was leaving the Farms for a municipal finance position closer to her home during a May 9 Farms City Council meeting, she was honored with a standing ovation from Farms officials and members of the public. Her last day with the Farms was June 1.

Peck Lichtenberg, who lives in Farmington, is becoming Royal Oak’s new finance director. Although she enjoyed working in the Farms, the change will reduce her commute to a third of what it is now.

“Royal Oak is offering me some new challenges and new opportunities,” Peck Lichtenberg said. “I don’t like to think of it as leaving here as much as (accepting) new opportunities there.”

Whether it’s training or continuing education, Peck Lichtenberg, a CPA, is always looking for ways to learn and grow. She got a great chance to do just that when she was selected in 2019 for the Michigan Municipal League’s prestigious Women’s Municipal Leadership Program. Peck Lichtenberg said that she was able to network and learn from fellow participants about what had and hadn’t been effective in their municipalities. In taking stock of her personal and professional strengths, she said she grew and developed stronger leadership qualities.

Peck Lichtenberg is a graduate of the University of Michigan, where she earned a bachelor’s degree in business administration with an accounting concentration. She started her career with the accounting firm Plante Moran, where she worked from 1989 to 1998.

A mother of three, she became a stay-at-home mom when she was expecting her second child. Peck Lichtenberg returned to the workplace in 2012, getting a position with Novi, where she was hired as a water and sewer financial services specialist in December 2012. She rose through the ranks quickly, becoming a senior financial manager in January 2013 and then assistant city treasurer in June 2013, after the deputy treasurer left. Westland sought her out a couple of years later, and she became that city’s budget director in February 2015, working there until she was hired by the Farms.

“It was an opportunity to be the top finance person (in a municipality),” Peck Lichtenberg said of accepting the Farms job. “And the Farms is such a great community, with a history of strong fiscal responsibility. It was really just a great opportunity to step into the top financial role in a community that had been well managed financially and was looking to move to the next level with technology and just improving processes.”

When she started working for the Farms, the city still relied on paper purchase orders, time sheets and other documents.

“From a professional standpoint, one of the things where I think I’ve been able to make my mark is in the area of technology and leveraging technology so we are less paper intensive and storing more of our records electronically,” Peck Lichtenberg said.

Doing this improves internal controls, reduces the chance of an invoice getting lost and a payment getting delayed, and prevents duplicate work by different people, she said. Peck Lichtenberg said she has always believed in applying best practices.

“My attitude is, work smarter, not harder,” Peck Lichtenberg said. “That’s been my approach, always.”

City leaders say Peck Lichtenberg has made a number of improvements to city processes and financial work during her tenure.

“Debbie has done an excellent job … over the last five years,” City Manager Shane Reeside said May 9. “And she’s really advanced the city in so many ways. We will continue living by her mantra: Work smarter, not harder. … The city will miss you. I will miss you.”

Mayor Louis Theros, who formerly served as chair of the city’s Budget and Audit Committee, said he had “an awesome experience” working with Peck Lichtenberg, adding that she made the budget process “easier and easier” every year.

“Thank you, and good luck,” Theros told her. “You will be greatly missed here.”

City Councilman Neil Sroka thanked Peck Lichtenberg for all her work — not only in finance, but also on the city’s Communications Committee.

“It’s been valuable to have your voice on that,” Sroka told her.

City Councilwoman Beth Konrad Wilberding, who has served on the council since 2019, said Peck Lichtenberg was wonderful at explaining complex financial matters.

“As a newbie, you made this easy to digest,” Konrad Wilberding told her.

Likewise, City Councilwoman Sierra Donaven expressed gratitude that Peck Lichtenberg was always so willing to sit down with her and answer any questions she had.

“I can’t thank you enough for ensuring I would walk away with at least a minimum of understanding of that section of the budget,” said Donaven, wishing Peck Lichtenberg well in her new position.

Farms resident and longtime Public Safety Director Daniel Jensen, who retired at the end of 2021, also praised Peck Lichtenberg.

“In my many years there … we’ve worked with a lot of finance directors,” Jensen said. “She was just a treat to work with (and) explained everything (well).”

Peck Lichtenberg said she’ll miss “the people” she has gotten to know in the Farms the most.

“I’ve got an amazing team here,” Peck Lichtenberg said. “I think that’s always the hardest part. You work closely with people and you share a lot of time with them. You develop friendships, and you wish you could take those with you.”