I grew up in the small city of Guntersville, Alabama (population 8,000), nestled in the beautiful foothills of the Appalachian Mountains. When I was born, my father was mayor of Guntersville. During my youth, he was the city attorney, and I witnessed firsthand both the upsides and downsides of municipal politics. I often visited the mayor’s house with my father, and became very interested in municipal politics.

In high school, I became actively involved in student government and other leadership roles. While still a high school student, I set a goal to be elected as the first female mayor of Guntersville. I think the entire town knew that I aspired to be mayor someday.

After graduation f rom high school, I attended the University of Alabama and decided to pursue a degree in accounting in order to become a tax attorney. I had several excellent accounting professors, one of whom was Michael Dugan. Professor Dugan provided me with the fundamental technical financial accounting knowledge that would enable me to be a successful CPA. Because of my desire to enter the accounting profession, I decided not to attend law school.

Upon graduation from the University of Alabama, I returned home to Guntersville and worked for a regional CPA firm for four years, performing audits (mainly governmental) and some tax work as well. This experience was very beneficial to my career development. Looking for a better work-life balance, I decided to open my own CPA firm in 1999, which I still maintain in downtown Guntersville to this day.

As a CPA, when I performed the City of Guntersville’s audit, the mayor at the time was aware of my desire to succeed him. In 2012, when he informed me that he was not seeking another term, I decided that it was the right time to run for mayor. I was elected in August 2012 and began serving that term in November 2012. I brought my extensive accounting knowledge and previous professional experience performing the city’s annual audit to the office, to which I was recently re-elected to serve a third term.

I use my accounting knowledge on a daily basis as mayor of Guntersville, including assisting the city clerk in determining the proper journal entry, speaking with developers about incentives to locate to Guntersville, reviewing financial statements, and devising appropriate internal controls.

My accounting degree has also been invaluable in the day-to-day operations and fiscal health of Guntersville. It has helped me understand how all types of entities—including municipalities—operate. Serving as the mayor of a municipality is comparable to serving as the CEO of a publicly held corporation. Because of my experience auditing governmental entities prior to my election as mayor, I was already very knowledgeable about the rules, regulations, and laws affecting those entities, which enabled me to understand the operations and fiscal health of my city.

Understanding the budgeting process has aided me in preparing the city’s annual budget. I speak with the city department heads and am sensitive to constituents’ concerns about the annual allocation of its resources. But if sufficient funds are not available, then no spending occurs. My constituents believe in fiscal responsibility. I have always promised my constituents that I will never spend more than the city has available in its bank account (other than large capital projects that require loan proceeds). The balancing act I face is having to prioritize limited resources with competing interests.

Thanks to my extensive knowledge of governmental accounting, I am able to achieve the accrual-basis financial reporting objectives set for the city. City council members, however, understand cash-basis reporting better and perceive it to be more useful and less complicated for decision-making purposes.

My professional accounting experience also enables me to converse knowledgeably with federal, state, and local officials about the implications of proposed legislation on municipalities. I have also been appointed as the president of the Alabama League of Municipalities and a board member of the Alabama Municipal Insurance Corporation. It has been a long road from my accounting degree from the University of Alabama to my tenure as mayor of the City of Guntersville. But it illustrates just what amazing things CPAs can do.

Leigh Barnett Dollar, CPA is the mayor of Guntersville, Alabama. She would like to thank her former professor, Michael Dugan, for his support and assistance in writing this piece.