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Public Sector CFO Winner: Sara Lenehan, City of Little Rock

2 min read

Sara Lenehan likes to say she’s had three careers — one in public accounting, a second in the private sector with Alltel, and a third as finance director for the city of Little Rock.

And with nearly four decades of accounting experience, Lenehan will be happy for her government accounting stint to be her last.

“In the next three to five years I’d like to retire,” the former University of Arkansas law professor’s daughter said. “So I’d like my last career to be with the city. And when I do retire, I don’t want to be missed; I want to have built a team that can move forward seamlessly.”

After getting her degree in accounting from UA-Fayetteville and becoming a CPA, Lenehan worked about eight years in public accounting, interrupted by the arrival of children, including twins. Seeking stability, she joined Systematics, the Jack Stephens-Walter Smiley data tech company that sold to Alltel Corp. in 1990.

“I worked with them for 13 years total, then started my third career with the city,” said Lenehan, who recently marked her 17th anniversary as a public employee. She started as city comptroller in 2004 and became finance director in 2008. One of Lenehan’s sisters, Laura Cook, was also a CPA and Alltel executive, and is now senior vice president of the CHI St. Vincent Foundation.

One achievement Lenehan is recently proud of is how the city managed to keep up a hard-won reputation for financial openness and fiscal responsibility in the face of unforeseen challenges like the pandemic, the record Arkansas River flood of 2019 and February’s massive snowstorm and cold-weather emergency.

Amid all those tests, Little Rock maintained its bond rating, won recognition for comprehensive financial reporting and became one of 16 cities nationwide certified as a What Works City by Bloomberg Philanthropies, which analyzes how leaders apply data in making policy and funding decisions.

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