Since being voted in as treasurer of the City of Carson in March 2015, California State University, Dominguez Hills (CSUDH) alumna Monica Cooper has been probing financial records and systems as she works to make the city’s capital safer, its investments more strategic and transparent, and its portfolio more robust.
Making Carson more financially viable is not just Cooper’s (’91, MPA, and ’90 B.S., Public Administration) job as treasurer, but is a promise she made to the city’s nearly 93,000 residents when she ran for office. She is well on her way to keeping that promise, starting with protecting the city’s assets.
“Before I got here there was an issue with funds that were stolen via the Internet. Someone went online and accessed our bank accounts to make wire transfers,” said Cooper, who grew up in Long Beach but has been living in Carson since 2009. “As a result, nearly $450,000 was stolen and we only got a portion of it back through insurance. So from the beginning I’ve been committed to making the city funds safe, especially online.”
At the age of 13, Cooper worked for a summer youth program in Long Beach that provided activities for children during the summer break, and had the opportunity to work in various departments in Long Beach City Hall. The experience, along with her mathematical ability, helped shape her interest in helping others, and in public sector work.
“That stuck with me, and is a big part of the reason I studied public administration at Cal State Dominguez Hills, from where I still draw knowledge I learned to this day. I was interested in government, but more the finance area of government because I like numbers,” said Cooper. “Now, with my years of investment experience, I felt that this position here in Carson would be very fitting to what I really like to do, which is why I ran for this office.”
Cooper has had an extensive career in the public sector. She worked for 22 years for the Franchise Tax Board in several positions, including as a public counter administrator, a job that she says is very similar to what she does as treasurer. She also worked as a financial manager in the private sector, which included managing the assets of her friends and family, and operated a real estate and mortgage business in Carson for 20 years.
“I would manage my family’s and friends’ real estate and financial portfolios,” said Cooper. “I also did investing and real estate management for my grandmother. Thank God for that. She now has the money needed to continue her in-home care.”
When Cooper was elected treasurer she quickly realized that the city didn’t have a strong investment strategy in place.
“There was no investment strategy that I could see and no information provided regarding what the strategy was. So one of my goals was to start moving in that direction–to begin to diversify the holdings,” she said. “The process has been a bit slow because I’ve converted the investment portfolio to new reporting software specifically designed for municipal investment portfolios.”
Cooper’s work to improve the city’s investment portfolio reporting includes making it easily accessible to the public.
“Investment reporting is critical. Quarterly investment reports will be completed and made available on the treasurer’s webpage,” said Cooper. “People really need to know what’s going on and why we are investing in a certain way. They need to understand this fully.”
Since taking office, Cooper has also found accounts that were not reported in prior investment reports.
“There were accounts that were there for years but never reported,” she said. “What I’m doing now is getting things streamlined and getting things to where they are auditable and accurate. I also think it’s important for residents to know what assets the city has and the exact amount of assets there are.”
Another issue that is being addressed is digitally updating Carson’s overall financial system, which is managed by obsolete software that makes her and her fellow employees’ jobs challenging at times.
“We have a treasury and finance department, and although we work well together, the financial system that links the two departments is obsolete and must be changed,” said Cooper. “So the city is in the process of changing its financial system, which I fully support.”
Cooper is also discovering more tangible ways the city can save money, even at City Hall.
Change isn’t always easy, but I like change, so I say let’s go for it. – Monica Cooper
“I noticed that we rely too heavily on paper, although some paper is needed, much can be eliminated by converting to a digital format,” said Cooper. “I’m a tree hugger, so it’s hard to justify using so much paper when so much of what we deal with can be handled digitally and stored on hard drives. Change isn’t always easy, but I like change, so I say let’s go for it, especially if it’s going to improve operations.”
Although being treasurer is a lot of work, Cooper enjoys it and plans to run for the office again when the time comes.
“This is what I foresee myself doing for a long time. I enjoy this position and the staff who work in the treasurer’s office. I love a challenge, and I like the environment here in the city,” she said. “I see a lot of potential for the City of Carson and I like where it’s headed. It is important to have the right people in place to push forward, and I think I’m one of the right people because I am certainly going to be pushing to make for a better Carson.”