Oakland finance director and veteran muni advisor are 2018 Freda Johnson Award winners

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Katano Kasaine, director of finance for the City of Oakland, Calif., and Noreen White, co-founder of Acacia Financial Group, will receive the 2018 Freda Johnson Award for Trailblazing Women in Public Finance.

The Northeast Women in Public Finance will formally present the awards at The Bond Buyer’s Deal of the Year ceremony in New York City on Dec. 6.

The award is named for Freda Johnson, a founding board member of the organization who was an executive vice president and public finance division head at Moody's Investors Service from 1979 through 1990.

This marks the eighth year the group has handed out the award and the fourth year in which the organization expanded it from one recipient to cover two public finance professionals, one each from the public and private sectors.
Kasaine, who was appointed director of finance last year, manages all aspects of Oakland’s financial functions including bond issuances, the city’s budget and revenue collections. She has also held the city’s treasurer role since 2012 and helped preserve healthy credit ratings while facing challenging budgets amid the Great Recession. Under her leadership, Oakland received credit upgrades from S&P Global Ratings and Fitch Ratings last year to near their highest level in city history.

“I’m really honored and humbled by this award,” said Kasaine, who in addition to leading Oakland’s financial operations also had a previous two-year stint as the city’s interim chief technology officer. “People who know me know how passionate I am about my job and how much I love Oakland.”

Kasaine began working in Oakland 23 years ago after receiving her Masters of Public Health at Loma Linda University in Southern California. In her more than two decades in Oakland, Kasaine has gone out of her way to mentor women seeking careers in public finance. She said there has been recent progress with increasing the number of women in public finance, but would like to see more obtain leadership positions.

“Public finance is an area where not a lot of women have been in power,” she said. “I want to do my part to get more women not just in public finance, but in leadership and decision-making positions because that is where they can truly make a difference.”

White, who co-founded Mount Laurel, N.J.-based Acacia in 2006 with co-president Kim Whelan, has more than 30 years’ experience in public finance and leads the firm’s engagements for multiple large state issuers including Connecticut, New Jersey, Illinois, Ohio and Wisconsin. She also advises the New York City Transitional Finance Authority, New York State Housing Authority, New York Thruway Authority, Chicago Public Schools as well as the cities of Chicago, Los Angeles, San Francisco and the District of Columbia.

“It’s very humbling and gratifying to be recognized by my peers,” said White, a Smith College graduate who earned her MBA in finance from New York University. “It’s nice to have the recognition of what you have accomplished and giving back to the municipal community.”

Prior to forming Acacia, White was president and founder of Municipal Advisory Partners, which she joined after leaving her stint as an investment banker at Bear Stearns. She previously was a member of the Municipal Securities Rulemaking Board for a four-year term from 2010 to 2014.

“Freda Johnson was an icon in the industry and she really clearly blazed a path where women hadn’t gone before,” said White. “This award validated a lot of the gut decisions I have made over the years.”

Last year's Freda Johnson award winners were Chicago’s chief financial officer Carole Brown and Julie Morrone, a principal at Rosemawr Management.

Past winners have included Marian Zucker, former president of the Office of Finance & Development at New York State Homes and Community Renewal; Suzanne Shank, founder and CEO of Siebert Cisneros Shank & Co.; Carol Kostik, former New York City Deputy Comptroller for Public Finance; Meghan Burke, Boston-based public finance section head at Mintz, Levin, Cohn, Ferris, Glovsky and Popeo; former Chicago CFO Lois Scott; veteran New York banker Kym Arnone; Connecticut Treasurer Denise Nappier, former Rhode Island Treasurer and current Gov. Gina Raimondo; and Philadelphia city Treasurer Nancy Winkler.

In 2013, the organization also gave a posthumous award to Muriel Siebert, the co-founder of SCSCO and the first woman to own a seat on the New York Stock Exchange, which was accepted by Shank in her name.

Other Trailblazers this year from the public sector are Massachusetts State Treasurer Deborah Goldberg; Kathleen Sharman, CFO of the Greater Orlando Aviation Authority; Sarah Riordan, executive director & general counsel for the Indianapolis Local Public Improvement Bond Bank; Megan Kilgore, city auditor of Columbus, Ohio; and Lisa Marie Harris, director of finance/treasurer at the San Diego County Water Authority.

The other Trailblazers this year from the private sector are Alison Radecki, partner in Orrick, Herrington & Sutcliffe LLP’s public finance department; Angelia Schmidt, managing director and head of municipal underwriting at UBS Financial Services; Linda Schakel, partner at Ballard Spahr; Sharon Brown, partner at Barclay Damon; Sandy MacLennan, partner at Squire Patton Boggs; Natalie Cohen, president of National Municipal Research and former head of municipal research at Wells Fargo Securities.

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