The 2023 Treasurer race: the stakes and the players

The need for monthly financial reports are driving the Harvey Treasurer's race.

Incumbent Aisha Pickett (left) and challenger David Clay II (right). Provided
Incumbent Aisha Pickett (left) and challenger David Clay II (right). Provided

The treasurer race is often overlooked as compared to City Council or the mayoral races.

As Harvey’s mayoral candidates hope to change the narrative behind public safety, its treasurer candidates look to provide Harvey’s financial record a facelift.

What does a treasurer do?

A municipal treasurer is often associated with paying bills but former Chicago alderperson and University of Illinois at Chicago Professor Dick Simpson said their responsibilities extend beyond that.

He says investing and putting money in banks is another crucial role. With proper research, Simpson said a treasurer can strategize the ideal financial gain while also impacting how local banks run — something he said happened in Chicago while he was in office.

“Treasurers invest in banks and they, alongside the city, can set limits on how they're going to deal with the bank,” Simpson said. “One of the major changes in Chicago while I was an alderman was making the banks report to us where they were lending money. If they were redlining in neighborhoods, we didn't give those banks the deposit.”

However, Simpson said maintaining a positive financial reputation is by far the most important task. Having an incompetent treasurer who misses bills can result in a lower credit rating, which Simpson says can make expenses rise if the city seeks financial assistance.

“An inadequate treasurer can affect the credit rating for the city,” he said. “If Harvey gets a bad credit rating, it’ll have to pay much more when they have to borrow money with an impact of (thousands to millions) of dollars depending on the circumstance.”

Candidate Aisha Pickett

Incumbent Aisha Pickett, a Harvey-raised Thornton Township High School graduate, is seeking reelection this Tuesday. Pickett is running a campaign focused on creating change one step at a time through increased transparency, according to her Harvey World Herald candidate questionnaire.

Pickett voiced concern for power-driven politics and lackluster transparency concerns at the hands of Mayor Chris Clark. She took a stand against Clark on Aug. 8 via Facebook Live when Clark had Pickett escorted from City Hall by the police. Pickett was escorted for refusing to leave a closed executive session because the topic had financial ramifications potentially impacting the city. However, Clark claimed it did not concern the treasurer at the time.

“I don’t think it was right for [Clark] to have the police escort me out of the building,” Pickett said on her Aug. 8 Facebook Live. “Just because [he] wants to flex his muscles, really mayor, that’s what you want? Kicking the treasurer out of a meeting? You wonder why [staff] quit … this is the B.S. we go through. Nobody wants to put themselves through that stress.”

Pickett declined to speak with the HWH.

Her calls for transparency for transparency are part of her system of “checks and balances” referenced in her questionnaire. In it, Pickett wrote that her role as treasurer is to let city staff handle day-to-day operations while she oversees the “entire financial picture and relay it to the residents.”

Part of this entire financial picture is balancing tax levies, according to Pickett’s questionnaire. She said she wants to ensure enough revenue to keep Harvey going while also searching for practical tax solutions to make Harvey attractive to prospective residents and business owners.

If reelected, Pickett says she would like to create a finance department page on the city’s website to publish financial reports to increase resident accessibility. These reports include the budget, annual audits and monthly and annual reports.

While Pickett doesn’t have a deciding vote on financial decisions, as those are made by City Council, the city had 2016-2017’s budgeted expenditures at roughly $51 million. The city has kept its expenditures near $52 million mark in 2021-2022’s budget when Pickett was in office.

Candidate David Clay

David Clay II, 23, said he hopes to bring a fresh perspective to Harvey’s municipal government. The candidate has a background in public policy with an undergraduate degree from Nashville’s Vanderbilt University and is pursuing his graduate studies at the University of Chicago. Clay joined the City of Harvey ranks in 2021 upon graduating from Vanderbilt. He held the roles of Deputy Chief ofSstaff and special events coordinator before leaving his post in August 2022.

Clay says hearing the stories of a past Harvey motivated his return home to work in local government. If elected, Clay II would become the youngest treasurer in Harvey history.

“I've never known good [about] Harvey, and to hear stories of how it used to be incentivized me to become an active participant in trying to get Harvey, not just back to where it used to be, but somewhere better,” Clay said. Not for myself but for my family, friends and their family.”

The Harvey native and Thornton Township High School graduate said he hopes to paint a picture of financial prosperity to help bring businesses to town, something the mayoral candidates also have their eyes set on.

“Purely from an economic standpoint, if you have investors or businesses who are looking to move to Harvey, they will look at what the economic situation is like,” Clay said. “A good way to see that is through the city's budget. Is the city in the red or is it in the black? Is it just breaking even? Why is that? What's the revenue stream looking like?”

“The budget tells a story and as a business proprietor wanting to move my operations to Harvey, that is going to be a cost and the risks decision and the city budget would be one thing to consider.”

The 2022 Harvey city budget had $52.8 million in expenses and $51.76 million in revenue, putting the city in the red. However, this improved compared to a pre-Pickett era where expenditures were at roughly $51.3 million with $48.3 million in revenue, according to the 2016-17 budget.

The 2023 budget was approved last fall. While it is not currently listed on the city’s website, the mayor mentioned the city is operating at a $300,000 surplus at the City Council council meeting last fall when it was approved.

Clay also said monthly reports are another way to let prospective businesses get a glance at Harvey’s financial situation. He said he is equipped to do this because he previously made regular reports on the city’s legislative actions when he worked for the city. Clay said his report would be easily accessible both online and in print if elected.

“You need to be able to make a lot of this complex information digestible for people,” Clay said. “It tells a story as to what direction the city is going by sharing where we're investing our money as well as where our money is coming from.”

Monthly financial reports are not currently available in Harvey.

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