Wanted: Chicago Infra Trust chief

The Chicago Infrastructure Trust has a top position to fill and is beginning to draw up a job description. The ambitious but contentious initiative has been both criticised and praised.

The bold but controversial Chicago Infrastructure Trust (CIT) is preparing itself to embark on an executive search for a director and is developing criteria for its ideal candidate.

“They are putting together the job description right now,” Tom Alexander, assistant press secretary to Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel, wrote in an email to Infrastructure Investor. Alexander was unable to provide further detail, such as if the trust would seek to hire a private sector professional or public servant, or when CIT is expecting to name a chief executive.

He went on to explain the trust might also search for a consultant, but did not elaborate.

In March Emanuel, elected mayor in 2011, created CIT with backing from The William J. Clinton Foundation as well as financial services provider Citibank, Citi Infrastructure Investors (CII), JP Morgan Asset Management (JPMAM), Macquarie Infrastructure and Real Assets (MIRA) and Union Labor Life Insurance Company  (ULICO).

Emanuel, once a Democrat operative for President Bill Clinton and chief of staff under current President Barack Obama, outlined the trust as a financing mechanism to put $1.7 billion in private capital toward refurbishing core infrastructure, such as transportation and water and wastewater management.

In July, Emanuel named five people to man the CIT board, including James Bell, former president and chief executive of The Boeing Company, and former Sara Lee Foodservice finance head Diana Fergusson.

In addition, Lois Scott, his finance chief, is a former consultant specialising in privatised parking who advised Los Angeles and Pittsburg, as well as Chicago, to lease parking.

Last week, CIT held its first board meeting, which Emanuel acknowledged in a press statement.

Widely hailed as a crucial development by the infrastructure industry, the trust – the first of its kind in America – has also been criticised as a high-risk undertaking. Chicago was the first US state to purse privatisation, leasing its on-street parking and Chicago Skyway toll road system.

Emanuel has said that Chicago cannot count on federal government funding or tax revenue to improve its infrastructure while noting that the Windy City, under the trust, will retain ownership of its infrastructure.

Meanwhile, the trust has won Emanuel praise from his peer group: last month, Philadelphia Mayor Michael Nutter called the Chicago Infrastructure Trust “smart and strategic”.