Despite $86.9 billion debt, Chicago to hire Chief Resilience Officer

The City of Chicago has been selected as one of the 100 Resilient Cities, pioneered by The Rockefeller Foundation, and is creating the position of Chief Resilience Officer (CRO) to transform and accelerate Chicago’s focus on resilience against unexpected weather and environmental events.

The CRO will lead the creation of a cohesive resilience strategy and will plan, coordinate and direct resilience efforts across city departments, according to a press release issued by the mayor’s office.

“City resilience is about making a city better, in both good times and bad, for the benefit of all its citizens, particularly the poor and vulnerable,” 100RC President Michael Berkowitz said in an email statement to the American Media Institute.

“Chicago’s neighborhoods and residents are the heart of our city and it is crucial we remain global leaders in how we strengthen and prepare our communities for any challenges that may arise,” Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel said in a press release. “The new position of Chief Resilience Officer will be a welcome addition to the city, and I look forward to ensuring Chicago continues to grow its emergency response and public safety efforts.”

The Rockefeller Foundation issued Chicago a grant to cover the first two years of the CRO’s salary. When asked by the American Media Institute if such a hire was wise given Chicago’s financial woes, a press department spokesperson said in an email, “we are pleased to have the support for these positions and are excited to see what the team can accomplish. Their work is not yet underway so it is still too early to discuss what will happen once the grant expires.”

According to, Chicago taxpayers are on the hook for $86.9 billion in debt and unfunded liabilities. That adds up to $32,000 per Chicago resident and more than $84,000 for every Chicago household. Citing the city’s underfunded pension crisis, Moody’s Investors Service downgraded Chicago’s debt to junk bond status this previous May.

Chicago City Council Alderman Raymond A. Lopez, who represents the 15th Ward, said in an email statement that the hire is necessary.

“With changing weather patterns the new norm, our city needs every available dollar to tackle these issues. So called ‘100 year floods’ are happening every year, several times a year,” Lopez said.

Lopez added winter weather is becoming increasingly more chaotic, with prolonged cold snaps buttressed by record snowfalls that cripple neighborhoods.

“We cannot let the financial situation cripple us from investing in our communities,” Lopez said.

Timothy Burroughs, CRO of the city of Berkley, California, who has been in his position for about a year, told the American Media Institute he would advise Chicago’s CRO to identify a manageable, actionable set of priorities that can be advanced through the partnership with 100RC as quickly as possible.

“100RC is an excellent opportunity to address existing challenges, such as infrastructure challenges, in a way that creates multiple benefits and bring a diverse set of stakeholders to the table,” Burroughs said.