Following the July 30 retirement of Adé Ariwoola (left), Steve Groom is the city’s new finance director. Courtesy photos

Following the July 30 retirement of Adé Ariwoola (left), Steve Groom is the city’s new finance director. Courtesy photos

Hometown Hero: Federal Way’s finance director retires

Federal Way Finance Director Adé Ariwoola retiring after 35-year career.

After a 35-year career in finance management, city of Federal Way Finance Director Adé Ariwoola is cashing out.

Ariwoola was hired by the city in 2014. For seven years, Ariwoola has navigated the city through successes and strains, including the COVID-19 pandemic. His last day with the city was July 30.

“I really love the work we’ve done in Federal Way, and I feel blessed to be a part of that accomplishment,” said Ariwoola, the Mirror’s Hometown Hero for July. “In the past few years, we have been able to make things happen out of nothing.”

Taking over as finance director is Steve Groom, who previously served two years as the finance director for the city of Yakima. Groom has also held finance director roles in Texas and California. Groom holds more than a half a dozen financial certifications, including a GCFM Certified Government Financial Manager.

“If you know Adé, you partially know me because, as he mentioned, we have a lot in common,” Groom said. Finance directors should be ethical, trustworthy and honest, he added. “His reputation has enhanced this city, so I hope to do the same. I hope to earn your trust.”

Ariwoola moved from Nigeria to attend Washington State University and later Gonzaga University, earning a Master of Business Administration. He is a certified government financial manager.

Prior to his role in Federal Way, he was the finance director for the city of Ellensburg. Ariwoola served as the financial services manager for Kitsap County for eight years, worked as the Chelan County chief accountant, and as a financial officer for EPIC, a Yakima nonprofit organization.

July 20 marked Ariwoola’s final Federal Way City Council meeting presentation.

“We are in your debt for all the great work you’ve done, all the awards that we’ve won and just the sound fiscal management,” Mayor Jim Ferrell said to Ariwoola at the meeting.

In the past seven years, Ariwoola helped the city build a foundation of successful policies and created collaborative bonds with both the mayor and city council members — which made his job easier, Ariwoola said.

Through creating a fund balance policy, the city was able to fund the Performing Arts and Event Center (PAEC). As of Dec. 31, 2020, approximately $4.4 million of the $33 million project remains to be paid, according to the city’s finance office.

The city has also received a clean budgetary audit for seven years, Ariwoola said, and has been awarded the Distinguished Budget Presentation Award from the Government Finance Officers Association of the United States and Canada (GFOA) since 1990.

In January 2020, Federal Way departed from the South Correctional Entity Regional (SCORE) jail and recognized approximately $2 million in annual savings, which eased the strike of the pandemic hardship.

Despite these wins, “will there ever be enough money to run government? No,” Ariwoola said.

“The last year has been challenging, but if you’re a leader and not looking for challenges, you’re in the wrong place,” he said. “Good leadership is defined by challenge.”

In June 2020, the Washington State Supreme Court ruled that the city of Federal Way has the authority to tax water and sewer utilities. This tax generates about $1 million in revenue for the city annually.

“I’m leaving the city in a better position than I found it,” he said. “It’s time to get out and let somebody else give it a shot.”

Ariwoola is known for his quotable quotes. Council President Susan Honda said he should write a book of his phrases and expressions to inspire others for years to come.

In his retirement, Ariwoola said he will spend more time with his grandchildren and family, travel and finish up a few lingering house projects.

When asked of his advice for the city after his departure, “It’s not about now,” Ariwoola said. “Always keep an eye on the future.”

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