CHICAGO — City Colleges has paid Chico & Nunes more than $260,000 for legal services—involving employment discrimination and contractual matters, among other things—since 2007, according to records and interviews.

Chico’s law partner, Marcus Nunes, insisted that the recusals won’t hamper Chico’s ability to get things done at City Colleges.

“Losing one vote is not really an impairment,” Nunes said.

And the abstentions are done in “an abundance of caution,” Nunes said. “Gery will abstain on a matter to avoid any perceived conflict of interest.”

He added that Chico was only directly involved in one matter between his firm and City Colleges before becoming chairman—a zoning issue. (Payments on that zoning matter were finalized at the May board meeting, Nunes said, and Chico abstained from voting on it.)

Nunes added: “When Gery is on the board, Gery himself and Chico & Nunes does not do [legal] work for the City Colleges. . . . We will not represent any clients in any matters involving City Colleges.”

The firm plans to continue to represent F.H. Paschen, AT&T and Primera. Nunes explained, “I don’t believe that Gery’s service on the board requires him to discontinue any work with those clients.”

Nunes said the firm should not be precluded from representing clients that do business with City Colleges. “As long as the proper safeguards are in place, and the abstention is noted so there is not an appearance of favoritism,” he added.

The contractors that Chico abstained over have done previous work with City Colleges, well before Chico’s arrival, according to records and interviews.

“Gery Chico has a long and admirable history of public service, but his private law business also has a long history of representing clients that get work from the government agencies he’s part of,” said BGA Executive Director Andy Shaw.

“While Gery has rightly abstained from voting on such matters since joining City Colleges—and before that at Chicago Public Schools, when he was board president—the BGA thinks it’s worth the City Colleges board revisiting the parameters of outside employment for trustees.”

Chico is a former chief of staff for Mayor Daley who served as school board president in Chicago from 1995 to 2001. During that tenure, a Chicago Tribune analysis found that Chico abstained from more than 400 votes.

The Tribune also found that clients of Chico’s then-law firm, Altheimer & Gray, and related companies reaped more than $577 million in Chicago Public Schools contracts during that time.

Asked whether he anticipates Chico’s abstentions being as voluminous as during his CPS tenure, Nunes said, “Given the nature and size of the City Colleges, I suspect that the number of abstentions will be significantly smaller.”

Since Jan. 1, 2008, just one other City Colleges board member has abstained from voting, and that was for a single item, according to records obtained under the Illinois Freedom of Information Act.

Chico said the seven recusals were miniscule compared to the “hundreds” of items handled by the board since his appointment by Daley.

“If I had 47 . . . recusals already, I’d say that [you] have a point,” Chico said. “But three companies [aside from his law firm]? You’ve got to be kidding me.”

In recent weeks, Chico and the City Colleges chancellor, Cheryl Hyman, announced plans for big changes at the community college system, which includes seven colleges and more than 120,000 students, many of whom are graduates of Chicago Public Schools.

Since the system is spending about $30 million a year on basic remediation classes, City Colleges is considering ending its “open-door” admissions policy, according to the Chicago Sun-Times. Daley voiced his support for raising the bar on admissions.       

>> Read the partner story at Catalyst Chicago. 

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