"I’m glad to have been a part of making our city a better place!"
--Tom Schapira, Accenture
In September 1985, Mayor Harold Washington asked the Civic Committee of The Commercial Club of Chicago, comprised primarily of the chief executives from Chicago's largest corporations, to evaluate the financial health of the City. In response, the Civic Committee and Chicago United established the Financial Planning Committee, bringing together more than 70 executives to study the budget, evaluate long-range financial prospects, and make recommendations for strengthening the financial condition of Chicago.
In 1987, the Financial Research and Advisory Committee (FRAC) was organized to implement and improve upon these recommendations.
In 2005, FRAC became the Civic Consulting Alliance, a name that reflects both the wider range of issues Civic Consulting takes on today and our unique approach to working with partners across the civic landscape.
Civic Consulting published a brief retrospective on the occasion of the twentieth anniversary in 2005.
Our roots reach back to more than 120 years, reflecting a longstanding spirit of public-private partnership in Chicago.
The Commercial Club of Chicago
By the late 1800s, Chicago had become a leading industrial and commercial center and was home to innovators such as George Pullman, Marshall Field, and Cyrus McCormick. To support this growing economic vitality, leading businessmen formed The Commercial Club of Chicago. They invested in various civic, social, and economic projects, most notably the Plan of Chicago. Published in 1909 and eventually renamed for its creator, architect Daniel Burnham, the Plan presented a vision for the City. It originated concepts for Wacker Drive, Grant Park, the museums along the lake, and routes that would become major rail and highway corridors. Expanding on the Plan, the members of The Commercial Club addressed issues ranging from sanitation to pensions, seeking to transform Chicago into a world-leading metropolis.
The Civic Committee
In the early 1980s, 70 years after publication of the Burnham Plan, Don Perkins, then President of The Commercial Club, set out to re-invigorate the Club. Along with Jim Beré and Cy Freidheim, Perkins envisioned a more active role for the group.
The Club met with Governor Jim Thompson and Mayor Jane Byrne, but little happened initially; public officials were not sure what to do with the offer of assistance. Upon the urging of Clayton Kirkpatrick, Editor-in-Chief of the Chicago Tribune, the Club commissioned a study to define problems facing Chicago. The study, Jobs for Metropolitan Chicago, was undertaken with assistance from McKinsey & Company, Booz Allen Hamilton, Arthur Andersen, and the Federal Reserve Bank of Chicago, all working on a pro bono basis. It focused on employment trends and revealed, among other things, that Chicago had been losing its share of the national job market every year for the past 30 years. Business and government leaders needed to work together to address the crisis.
The Civic Committee of The Commercial Club formed in 1982, in response to Jobs for Metropolitan Chicago. Thirty-three corprate leaders institutionalized their civic commitments by providing financial support and a full-time staff. In doing so, they created a mechanism for Chicago’s business leaders to carry out their civic mission. For the position of inaugural Executive Director of the Committee, Perkins recruited Larry Howe.
The Financial Planning Committee
In September 1985 Mayor Harold Washington approached Jim Beré with a request to make a “hard-nosed, business-like evaluation, with no punches pulled” of the City’s long-term finances. Reports that New York City was failing to make payroll were echoing back home; Mayor Washington was concerned about Chicago’s future. Beré responded that the Civic Committee would help. To handle the task, the Civic Committee, in partnership with Chicago United, created the Financial Planning Committee (FPC), which eventually became the Civic Consulting Alliance.
FPC’s first project with the City set the precedent for future collaborations. Comprising a “loaned” staff of 12, supported by 62 part-time, pro bono executives, the FPC worked closely with City Hall to assess the City’s finances and make recommendations.
The FPC project was a success, and the methods used then continue to characterize the projects of the Civic Consulting Alliance today. First, the group developed a team structure that was at once flexible enough to apply the expertise of volunteers while also strong enough to create a consistent working method. Second, the project was conducted “below the radar” for its first year. And third, the need for change was urgent: within six years the City’s budget would be $350 million in the red. Chicago was at a financial crossroads. The FPC presented its report to Mayor Washington on November 19, 1986.
The 200 recommendations in the FPC report ranged from cost containment (for example, reducing absenteeism), to revenue enhancement (for example, tighter billing and collections), to management initiatives (for example, hiring full-time budget analysts).The report concluded with an agenda for public-private partnerships, promoting the use of pro bono, private- sector resources to address City priorities, thus sharing accountability for a better Chicago.
From Chicago: A City at the Financial Crossroads, FPC’s 1986 report
The rationale for an active public-private partnership in any city can be built on the following key elements:
Keys for Success
Based on the experience of other cities, a number of factors appear to be necessary for a successful partnership. At a minimum, the partnership needs to be well coordinated from both the private and public sides. Coordination assures that:
For effectiveness, the assignments require small working groups. For accountability to the public, an annual reporting of projects undertaken and the outcome of recommendations is highly desirable. Finally, to assure the joint-effort nature, city officials and staff must work with private sector individuals as required on each project.
Financial Research and Advisory Committee
In 1987, the FPC became FRAC—Financial Research and Advisory Committee—with a mission “to assist the Mayor and his staff in the implementation of recommendations contained in the Financial Planning Committee report and to assist in achieving other financial management improvements.”
With a leadership team of Harry Vincent, Clare Muñana, who had assisted on the original report, and Larry Howe, then head of the Civic Committee, FRAC continued the model initiated by FPC, including top talent at no fee.
There was now a formal mechanism for bringing private-sector resources to public issues on an ongoing basis. The scope of the work eventually expanded beyond financial recommendations, and FRAC addressed some of the broader areas of governmental and municipal management which had concerned The Commercial Club nearly a century earlier.
In 2005, FRAC changed its name to Civic Consulting Alliance to describe better how it works with partners and clients.