In the beginning...
As Recalled by Past Presidents Don Duranso, Dick Jesse and Betty Schmidt
In the beginning, there was no IGFOA! Originally Illinois cities and villages were staffed with elected mayors, treasurers and village clerks. Some of these positions gradually became full-time and some were appointed. Then came the post-war expansion. Small villages within the Chicago metropolitan area saw large influxes of new residents and expanding business. With the rapid growth came numerous municipal challenges. A few municipalities (Glencoe, Winnetka and Lake Forest) had previously adopted a City Manager form of government by ordinance or charter. Then in 1953 the state law was changed enabling municipalities to alter the form of government to the city manager form by referendum.
When City Managers were hired, a number of them recruited finance professionals to handle the day-to-day financial operations of their communities. In 1953 finance officers Wayne Anderson of Evanston, Harris Stevens of Oak Park, Dick Isadore of Park Ridge, Lee Ellis of Winnetka and Don Duranso of Glencoe began meeting monthly. Their purpose was to learn from each other. Each month they would rotate to a different municipality where they would review the accounting system and office operations used, talk about current problems and have lunch. At the end of the first five months, the group decided to continue with their monthly meetings to assist each other in finding solutions to developing challenges. Soon an informal telephone network developed so that the participants would have someone to exchange ideas with on emerging problems, bond issues and financial operations. In 1954 Glen Kiger of Woodstock joined the group.
While a national Municipal Finance Officers Association existed since 1906 and was attended by some of the group of six, there was no official state or local group. The Chicago area finance officers had met Al Keller of Bloomington and Jack Loftus of Decatur at the national conferences.
The Illinois Municipal League sponsored an annual conference in Springfield for municipal officials. The main focus of the League was assistance to elected officials. The original group of six had been attending these annual conferences. Then in 1957 they requested the League to include a session specifically for finance directors. The League agreed and thirty-three people attended. At the conclusion of the session those present decided to form a state group for finance officers. On March 21, 1958 the Illinois Chapter Municipal Finance Officers Association was incorporated.
The Illinois Chapter MFOA held an annual spring conference in addition to planning the program for the finance session at the fall Illinois Municipal League meeting. The official purposes of the Illinois Chapter MFOA were to "Promote improved methods of governmental finance in the State of Illinois; advance the use of common terminology, classification and principles in governmental finance; encourage the use of independent periodic audits; analyze and resolve financial problems arising under the Illinois Statutes; and develop closer understanding and cooperation among those concerned with public finance in Illinois."
Originally a primary goal was to provide help to downstate communities. It was felt that many of the meetings should be held downstate to reach the greatest number of people. The Illinois Chapter MFOA worked with universities on housing and programs for the spring conferences. The first spring meeting was held at the University of Illinois in Champaign in 1959. Succeeding conferences were held at Southern Illinois University in Carbondale, the University of Chicago in Chicago, the University of Illinois at Monticello, Northern Illinois University in DeKalb and Illinois State at Normal. In 1967 for the first time the spring conference was not held at a university. It was held in Rock Island. Banks, investment and auditing firms began sponsoring social hours and breakfasts.
Soon after the incorporation of the Illinois Chapter Municipal Finance Officers Association, the members in the Chicago metropolitan area decided to have monthly luncheons in the months when there was not an Illinois Chapter MFOA, Illinois Municipal League or national MFOA meeting. Thus the Chicago MFOA was born, initially meeting at the Stone Cottage on North Avenue.
Illinois GFOA: The Middle Years 1968 to 1983
In the last issue of the Communiqué, Past Presidents Don Duranso, Dick Jesse and Betty Schmidt recalled the beginning and early years of Illinois GFOA. From a nucleus of six Chicago area municipal finance officers meeting for the purpose of learning from each other, IGFOA has grown to over 750 members.
As membership expanded and the complexity of the finance officer’s responsibilities kept growing, the annual conferences kept pace—not only in the number of attendees but also in the content of the conference sessions. New issues like EDP (electronic data processing) and the evolving issues of investing public funds, changes in accounting and reporting standards, insurance, employee benefits and financing new services were the focus of many conference sessions.
Sometimes the annual conferences took on a completely different flavor from our usual routine, such as the conference in 1968 when Bob Atcher, Mayor of Schaumburg, was the keynote speaker. Bob was a country western entertainer, and one of the stars of the WGN Barn Dance program. Bob entertained us with his music, but he also related the no-nonsense approach that Schaumburg had taken with developers and builders in this rapidly growing community.
Many Changes in the Finance Department
In the 1970’s and early 1980’s, finance department operations were seeing innumerable changes. Communities were growing overnight, and the need for professional financial management became paramount. Many communities developed their own software and computer systems because commercial software products to keep pace with the ever increasing need for information, including added reporting requirements, were just not available. Finance directors were required to become experts in the conversion of manual accounting and other finance operations. Increased community planning activities and infrastructure needs called for debt service administration, and the investment of temporarily idle funds became a significant finance office responsibility. Insurance programs from commercial carriers disappeared in the early 1980’s, and risk management functions and self-insured programs were added to finance department operations in many communities.
Through it all, the need to share information and maintain current information were a significant part of finance operations during this period, leading to IGFOA’s continued growth. As with any organization, the growth spurts in Illinois GFOA during this time period brought new challenges and some pain. Discussions and planning sessions by state officers attempted to address member needs, especially the training needs of smaller downstate communities. However, most of the formal training sessions were still provided by national GFOA and were not always convenient for many Illinois communities. As member needs became more apparent, the Career Development Committee was formed. In the beginning, many of the training sessions were offered as a part of the annual conferences or in conjunction with the monthly meetings of the Chicago Metro GFOA. During these years, there were often 50 to 60 finance professionals attending the monthly Chicago Metro meetings, and eventually the meeting place was changed from the Stone Cottage in Elmhurst to Plentywood Farms in Bensenville.
Then Along Came GASB
One of the outside influences that had a significant impact on the development of the Illinois GFOA was the creation of the Government Accounting Standards Board (GASB). GASB started out with a bang, and it seemed like many of the early proposals were unrealistic or impractical for Illinois governmental entities. Primarily in response to these proposals, Illinois GFOA created the Technical Committee on Accounting. Finance officers on the committee, along with strong support from associate members, quickly started to digest each of the GASB proposals and then to formally comment on these proposals to the GASB. The consistent and thorough responses by this committee soon made Illinois GFOA a voice to be recognized.
A Heavy Burden
During the early and the middle years, administration of the Illinois GFOA became the responsibility of the state officers and committee chairs. These extra duties placed a heavy burden on these early leaders, but at the time it was just considered a part of the job. The vision and efforts of these members and the support of the associate members helped Illinois GFOA keep moving forward through these changing times. Nevertheless, as the Association kept growing and the member needs became more and more pressing, the need for professional administration became the primary concern of many IGFOA members.
The Next Phase
The next phase of the development of Illinois GFOA encompasses the addition of a part time executive director and eventually the move to a full-time executive director. This phase in the history of Illinois GFOA will be the focus of an article in the September Communiqué.