CHICAGO - Cook County, Ill., President Todd Stroger last week tapped corporate banking veteran Jaye Morgan Williams to take over as the county's chief financial officer.
Williams, whose appointment still must be approved by the county Board of Commissioners, will fill a vacancy left earlier this year following the resignation of Donna Dunnings, Stroger's cousin, over a controversy stemming from her relationship with a fired county employee who lied about his criminal background.
Williams takes over the fiscal reins of county government after it was hit with duel downgrades earlier this year, grapples with declining revenues, and endures a board battle over an unpopular sales tax increase with a looming deadline for the proposed 2010 budget. Commissioners and the president also are entering high political season ahead of next year's election.
"It's a busy time," said Williams, who started work last week. She said she is spending her first days going over county finances, meeting with commissioners, and preparing for the next budget, which the president generally unveils in November.
"We're in the throes of doing the budget right now, and are doing lots of forecasting and modeling to get our arms around our resources," Williams said. "My background in financial management should serve well in increasing our focus and discipline, which drive financial stability."
Williams in 2003 left Bank One Corp. - which became part of JPMorgan Chase & Co. in 2004 - where she was senior vice president. Altogether, she spent 25 years in corporate banking, and specialized as senior banker to energy companies, she said. She also was president of Bank One's Community Development Corp.
"I've never worked in public finance, but finance is finance," said Williams, who is 52. "Doing project financings for large energy companies prepares you for most things."
Since 2003 she has volunteered at a variety of high-profile Chicago organizations. She is the wife of Rufus Williams, former president of the Chicago Board of Education. She has a son who is a senior at Yale University and a 30-year-old stepdaughter who is a nurse at Northwestern Hospital in Chicago. Williams has a master's of business administration from Northwestern University's Kellogg Graduate School of Management.
The board is expected to vote on the appointment at its Sept. 2 meeting. Also at that meeting the board will likely vote on an override of Stroger's veto of the board's 50% rollback of a controversial 1% sales tax increase.
Last year Stroger pushed through the one percentage point sales tax increase, putting Chicago's sales tax at 10.25%, one of the highest in the nation. The county's portion of that tax is 1.75%.
Since then the board has faced widespread pressure to repeal or rollback the tax hike, and in May the board voted to roll back the increase by 50%. Stroger vetoed the measure, claiming it would mean draconian service cuts, and the veto survived several override attempts. But now anti-tax commissioners on the board say they have gathered enough votes to override the veto.
The tax hike was expected to generate an additional $400 million for county coffers, though officials revised that figure downward several times amid the weak economy. Credit analysts, meanwhile, warn that a rollback or repeal of the sales tax could further pressure the county's balance sheet and its rating.
In June, as the county entered the market with roughly $500 million of new-money and refunding bonds, Fitch Ratings downgraded the credit one notch to AA-minus and assigned a stable outlook. Moody's Investors Service lowered the rating one notch to Aa3 with a stable outlook, while Standard & Poor's affirmed its AA and stable outlook.
The county has $3 billion of GO debt.