Jill Jaworski’s pick as Chicago CFO draws praise

Veteran financial advisory professional Jill Jaworski will take the helm of Chicago finances as chief financial officer and Cook County budget director Annette Guzman will become city budget director in Mayor-elect Brandon Johnson’s administration.

Johnson made the announcements Thursday, four days before he is sworn into office, along with appointments for several other top roles including S. Mayumi “Umi” Grigsby as director of policy and Jennifer Johnson as deputy mayor of education, youth, and human services.

“These appointments reflect our policy priorities and strategic goals as we set a bold agenda for the next four years,” Johnson said in the statement.

The choice of Jaworski drew praise from outgoing CFO Jennie Huang Bennett and market participants who are watching closely to see whether the city stays on track with fiscal progress that has drawn more than a dozen rating upgrades across credits.

PFM’s Jill Jaworski will serve as chief financial officer under Chicago Mayor-elect Brandon Johnson who will be sworn in Monday.

“Jill Jaworski understands how investors think about Chicago and her experience with numerous city agencies will be an asset to the incoming administration,” Molly Shellhorn, senior research analyst for municipals at Nuveen, said in an email. “Having Jaworski in this important leadership position should give the investor community confidence that the city’s finances will stay on a responsible path.”

Jaworski brings a deep knowledge of Chicago and its sister agencies’ finances, having worked directly as an advisor on deals and financial policies. She also brings a national perspective as she is a member of her firm’s national transportation team, working with transit and transportation clients with a focus on the South and Mid-Atlantic regions.

“Jill serves a range of clients in the Chicago area, and as a member of PFM’s transportation team, she serves transit clients nationally with a focus on the South and Mid-Atlantic regions,” her PFM biography reads. “Jill has extensive experience serving as either financial advisor for technically complex long-term assignments. She works with both high-grade and distressed credits.”

Bennett — who calls Jaworski a friend and with whom she has a longstanding professional relationship due to her work as an advisor to the city during Bennett’s four-year tenure and also as advisor to Chicago Public Schools during Bennett’s tenure as CFO there — praised the choice.

“Jill Jaworski is an incredible selection for CFO. She is a well-respected municipal finance professional with decades of experience both nationally and with Chicago and its sister agencies,” Bennett said. “I expect her to continue on the path of fiscal discipline which the city has been on for at least the last 12 years and continue the financial turnaround that Mayor Lightfoot’s administration has accomplished in the last four years.”

PFM hired Jaworski in 2010 to put boots on the ground in its Chicago office that had been established several years earlier. Jaworski began her public finance career at First Albany Capital in 1998. She spent 12 years at the firm, which evolved into Jefferies & Co., working with clients as both a financial adviser and investment banker. She holds a bachelor’s degree in political science from the University of Chicago.

The firm wished Jaworski well and said its Midwest senior leadership team will manage ongoing coverage of the Chicago area.

“Jill has been a fantastic business partner at PFM. Jill’s new chapter illustrates no matter how long you’ve been with PFM, the desire to serve the public is integral to what we do,” Dan Hartman, PFM’s chief executive officer, said in a statement.

It was not immediately clear how Jaworski’s move would formally impact PFM’s existing or future financial advisory contracts with the city or its sister agencies. PFM is the top-ranked advisor nationally and in Illinois and has longstanding relationships with the city and its sister agencies. The firm was ranked 1st in the Midwest last year among financial advisors advising on 226 deals valued at more than $9 billion, according to Refinitiv.

Jaworski’s hiring leaves an opening on the Municipal Securities Rulemaking Board, which she joined as a municipal advisor representative last October. Bennett is also on the MSRB board.

“The MSRB congratulates board member Jennie Huang Bennett for her years of service to the city of Chicago and board member Jill Jaworski for her appointment to serve as the city’s next chief financial officer,” the MSRB said in a statement.

“The MSRB soon will open a special application period to seek municipal advisor candidates to fill the vacancy created by Jill’s departure from the board as a municipal advisor representative,” the statement read. Separately, the board is continuing its current nominating process to elect two public and two regulated representatives to join the board on Oct. 1.

Eight members of the 15-member board are representatives of the public, including at least one investor and at least one issuer, as well as other individuals not regulated by the MSRB. Bennett can continue to serve in the capacity of a public member not regulated by the MSRB.

Guzman, who holds a law degree from the University of Chicago, has managed Cook County’s budget since 2020. The county operates on the east side of the city hall-county building in downtown Chicago. During her tenure, she has overseen the county’s use of $1.6 billion in COVID-19 federal relief and balanced budgets that have helped the county win rating upgrades. The county operates on an $8.8 billion budget.

The incoming administration has not named a comptroller to replace Reshma Soni, but she had previously said although she’s ready to move on she would be willing to stay on briefly until a successor was named. Bennett and Park had said the same.

The finance team inherits a $16.4 billion all-funds spending package including a $5.4 billion corporate fund. Revenues are on the mend and progress on managing a $33.7 billion pension tab and better aligning revenues with expenses have drawn upgrades, raised budget surpluses, and trimmed future deficit projections.

But pressures abound. First, the city must deal with rising costs not covered by state and federal support to pay for costs related to migrants Texas has sent to the city. The City Council is being asked to use $50 million in available funds from a prior budget surplus to address housing and other needs.

The market worries about Johnson’s campaign proposals to levy a series of new taxes and the impact of a potential recession on city revenues while some major businesses have left, citing crime worries, and downtown vacancies from ongoing remote work remain high. CPS and the Chicago Transit Authority have warned of deep deficits in the coming years once federal pandemic aid is exhausted. The city holds sway over leadership of those agencies.

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