Detroit's financial chief to leave city in December
Detroit — The financial expert who helped lead the city's bankruptcy restructuring is leaving his post, city officials confirmed Wednesday.
Detroit Chief Financial Officer John Hill has informed Mayor Mike Duggan and Detroit City Council President Brenda Jones of his plans to step down from the $230,000-per-year position by the end of December.
The government and financial turnaround expert was first brought on in 2013 by Detroit's former Emergency Manager Kevyn Orr to head the city's financial restructuring during what's been the largest municipal bankruptcy in the history of the nation.
Hill originally had planned to leave Detroit shortly after its bankruptcy in December 2014, but ultimately remained on board the Duggan administration overseeing the restructuring of the city's financial operations, aiding the city in addressing its looming pension obligations, seeing it through four consecutive balanced budgets and its emergence from state oversight this spring.
Duggan on Wednesday credited Hill with helping restore Detroit's credibility with Wall Street and setting it on a path to keep its finances on track long-term.
“From a financial management standpoint, the City of Detroit is now one of the most professionally run cities in the country," Duggan said. "Considering where our City was just five years ago, this is a remarkable turnaround, and it simply would not have been possible without John Hill’s leadership and the outstanding team he has assembled.”
Among his efforts, Hill helped craft a dedicated "Retiree Protection Fund" that's expected to accumulate more than $300 million by 2023 to address the city's future legacy obligations.
The city, under Hill, has earned Detroit higher marks in the bond and credit markets and among state leaders.
Detroit also is out of all active federal and state oversight for the first time in about four decades, officials have said.
Hill on Wednesday said after leading financial turnarounds in Washington, D.C., and Detroit, he's convinced that the right team can bring about reform in a short period and help the government get back on track.
"The mayor has encouraged me to stay as long as I could, and I think the city is at a point where it will do well in a transition. I'm pretty positive on the future outlook of the city's ability to stay this course and to thrive," Hill told The Detroit News. "I have learned a lot over the last five years and will take with me a positive feeling about Detroit, all the people here and its potential future."
Some of Hill's powers at CFO have been controversial, including his ability to approve some contracts without the input of Detroit's council.
In particular, Hill had been empowered by Orr to bypass the council and make hiring decisions to support the city's finance and budgeting operations. That included high-priced consultant contracts that were arranged without the council's knowledge, prompting calls for transparency.
Hill voluntarily surrendered the power to execute contracts without the council in December 2015. He previously told The Detroit News that he'd been transparent all along with the council, providing monthly reports on the actions he'd taken.
During his tenure, Hill and his team worked on the restructuring of all finance, budget, grants management, procurement, and property assessment functions in Detroit and reorganized the city's financial management operations.
His office also implemented a four-year financial plan and he helped Detroit transition to state-managed city income tax collection system, the city noted.
At the end of the 2017 fiscal year Detroit had accrued a total general fund balance of $592.8 million, compared to a $73 million total fund deficit at the end of FY 2013, officials noted.
Before he leaves Detroit, Hill said he will work with the mayor and council on a plan to address future debt service payments.
"John is one of the most effective and capable municipal chief financial officers I have worked with in my 20 years in this business," State Treasurer Nick Khouri added. "His leadership managing the city of Detroit's finances during and after bankruptcy created a framework for future success. I thank John for all he has done to ensure Detroit's comeback continues."
Hill said he's still evaluating what's next but he does intend to return to his home in Miami Beach.
The city plans to conduct a national search for Hill's replacement.