It’s been one year since Kurt Summers was appointed by Mayor Rahm Emanuel as City Treasurer, the post he was officially elected to back in February. Since then, his schedule has been hands-down non-stop compared to other public officials at City Hall.
Upon first taking office, the 37-year-old former investment broker launched a 90-Day Action Plan that included a listening tour of Chicago’s 77 communities in 77 days.
It was an aggressive and ambitious outreach on his part, but one that Summers felt was needed in order to meet and talk with the city’s residents in person and to ascertain the particular challenges in specific neighborhoods.
Summers met with the Chicago Defender Editorial Board recently to present a one-year report, “Investing In Our Chicago.” It includes various measures his office has put forth to revive a broken and crippled system the Treasurer’s Office maintains dates back to the Al Capone days.
Summers says he has been faced with 30-year old computer systems, poor cash flow management, static investing, lack of accountability, and over-spending on pension fees, among other difficulties.
But he’s also enjoyed considerable triumphs in his short tenure. In his first year, Summers says his office has meticulously found and closed 227 unused bank accounts, more than half of which came from one bank and yielded
$11 million that hadn’t been touched. In addition, $23 million in unused bond proceeds and 1,561 total funds, along with 746 in dormant funds, brought a $105 million opportunity for new city programming.
Summer’s action plan for making gradual change includes the first municipal earnings call in the nation. This involves a conference call headed up by his office inviting the participation of residents, businesses and community leaders.
It will serve as a way to share with taxpayers the city’s financial performance. On this call, economic experts will join Summers to provide updates on Chicago’s portfolio and the municipal bond market.
In moving towards this type of interaction, he feels it allows his office to practice three main goals – transformation, professionalism and accountability.
“We have a saying in our office, ‘How did you help people today?’” Summers says. “That holds true in how we keep in mind who we work for – the residents of Chicago. Did we do enough to make a positive change in someone’s life in our role to serve?”
Currently, the City of Chicago has 11 public employee pension funds, $35 billion in assets with individual procurement and $144 million in investment fees annually. Eight out of 11 unions have started to collaborate with the city in savings.
The city is also currently in negotiation with Cook County and the Chicago Teachers Union on structuring new terms. Summers predicts that if unions collaborate with the city in one cohesive rate of interest, it could save the City of Chicago $25-50 million.
Kurt Summers is not only the City Treasurer, but he is also a Chicago-born resident with deep ties to the Bronzeville community.
A graduate of Whitney Young High School, he went on to receive a Bachelor of Science in Business Administration degree with Management Distinction High Honors in Finance and International Business and a minor in East Asian Studies, from Washington University in St. Louis. He also holds a Master of Business Administration degree from Harvard Business School.
In his previous job as the Chief of Staff of Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle, Summers was instrumental in closing the county’s $487 million budget deficit. Now he has been assigned the challenging task of digging deep into the financial craters of our city’s financial woes.
Having built his career at some of the country’s leading financial capital firms, Summers uses the same diligence, discipline and care in bringing more opportunities for the city and small businesses.
In the next year of his term, he will lean on bank accountability, tracking their progress on frequent investment in Chicago communities to help decide how much of the city’s money these municipal depositories will be given to work with.
This will also help more small business owners by providing them with more resources to build long-term sustainability. In his report, Summers lists the importance of local investment initiatives, of driving capital to city neighborhoods to boost the local economy and stimulate job growth.
On Tuesday, Summers was the keynote speaker at the City Club, a group of prestigious business, civic and community leaders. He discussed the significant strides his staff has already accomplished, and said he feels there is much more work to do in his role as City Treasurer.
“We have a strategy to invest in East Asia, South America, Western Europe – in every other geography, every other market in the world, but we’re the third largest market in the country here. What this means is that were missing out, missing out as investors and our paradigm for the community. That’s one of the things we hope to change,” Summers said.