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Williams in charge of county finances, $3B budget

Wednesday, December 09, 2009
Chicago Defender
by Wendell Huston

After 25 years of working in corporate America Jaye Williams decided it was time for a change.

That change brought Williams, 53, to the helm of the county’s financial department in August. And now as Cook County’s chief financial officer, she is charged not only with managing a $3.1 billion budget, but also with making sound, fiscal decisions on behalf of county taxpayers.

Williams is a veteran in the local corporate industry. She has also worked at several local financial institutions including Bank One - now JP Morgan Chase Bank - and LaSalle Bank, which is now Bank of America.

Additionally, for the past 25 years she has been married to Rufus Williams, sports attorney and former president of the Chicago School Board.

Her new annual salary, which hovers around $175,000, is far less than what she earned in the private sector.

“You do not come to work for the public sector expecting to make a lot of money especially during tough, economic times,” she said. “Yes, I am making less than what I earned in the private sector but I have gained so much more in other ways.”

She replaces Donna Dunning, who was fired this year, in part, because of allegations that she was involved in an inappropriate relationship with a former county employee she supervised. Dunnings has denied the allegation.

While the campaign for the office of Cook County Board President is being waged all around her, Williams keeps her distance from the political wrangling.

“I try not to let politics become a part of this office because I am not a politician,” she told the Defender. “I recognize how complex and challenging this position is, which is why I find this job so exciting. One of the biggest challenges I see for the county is how to continue delivering cost-efficient services such as health care.”

Indeed, with the county’s portion of the state sales tax, which is 1.75 percent, set to roll back to 1.25 percent beginning July 1, providing quality health care will pose a challenge to the county, according to Cook County Board President Todd Stroger.

Williams admits that prior to joining the county she did not know Stroger personally, though her husband did.

“But I did not get this job because of my husband. I was hired based on my experience as a fiscal manager,” Williams clarified. “And I absolutely love my job.”

Her boss said he is pleased with her work and is happy she agreed to join his management team at the county.

“Jaye is widely experienced in financial services and strategic management,” Stroger said. “Her history of successful engagement with new initiatives, combined with her extensive experience in corporate finance, makes her an outstanding selection.”

To date, she has only hired two people to fill vacant positions and said when she looks to hire someone she looks for the best, qualified person, not race or political affiliation.

“The staffing here is phenomenal. When we were preparing the 2010 budget there were some weeks we worked six days,” recalls Williams. “I have a dedicated staff working with me.”

County departments under her realm include the comptroller, purchasing, risk management, budget, and revenue. There are roughly 200 employees who work within these departments and under Williams’ watchful eye.

While admitting she has not had time to explore new revenue streams to replace the anticipated $200 million the county stands to lose beginning in 2010 thanks to the sales tax reduction, Williams said she is not opposed to leasing county assets just as the City of Chicago did when it privatized its parking meters. With each lease deal the city netted over $1 billion.

“By April we would have begun to look at ways to raise new revenue for the county,” said Williams, who has a bachelor's degree in finance from the University of Illinois and an MBA in finance and accounting from Northwestern University’s Kellogg Graduate School of Management.

And when she is not working on for the county taxpayer, she is engaged in philanthropic work, something she enjoys.

That work includes mentoring to young professionals and serving on the board for several non-profit organizations.

A mother of one adult son and an daughter, she reads to relax and especially enjoys reading relationship books.

Originally born and raised in southern Illinois, the Lincoln Park resident describes herself as a “private, compassionate person who is also a critical thinker.”

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