SPRINGFIELD – Gery Chico isn’t a well-known name in northwestern Illinois.
The former Chicago mayoral candidate and leader of multiple Chicago area boards, including of Chicago Public Schools, is Gov. Pat Quinn’s pick for the nonsalaried chairman of the Illinois State Board of Education post.
That’s how he ended up in front of the Senate Executive Appointments Committee on which Sen. Tim Bivins, R-Dixon, sits.
Bivins had requested that Chico come to Springfield before the committee OK’d the governor’s appointment, something that doesn’t usually happen for nonsalaried positions.
He had questions about the Save-A-Life Foundation.
The nonprofit’s goal is to teach students CPR. It was the recipient of millions of dollars from the city of Chicago, the state of Illinois and the federal government, about $800,000 of which hasn’t been accounted for, Bivins said.
Issues also are arising about where that money is going and whether any children have received training.
Monday morning, Bivins asked Chico about what he knew and whether he was involved with the group.
Chico never has been a member of the organization, he answered, and the foundation got involved with Chicago Public Schools the same way every other group did when he was president of the board.
Bivins voted no when the appointment came up before the full Senate.
“He answered a lot of my questions,” said Bivins, who had met with Chico before the public hearing. “There were no accusations that he did anything wrong. I don’t think anyone was attacking his integrity or character.”
Save-A-Life Foundation is one of a couple organizations Bivins is looking at.
Another is the Neighborhood Recovery Program, which he said the state cannot audit.
“Where’s our money going?” Bivins said. “Where’s our tax dollars going? Where did it go? ... As taxpayers, we have a right to know where the money’s going.”
The former Lee County sheriff wants investigations and audits of these groups, he said.
“I think if there’s probable cause for wrongdoing, especially if it involves public money, there ought to be an investigation, sure,” Chico said.
For Bivins, the millions of dollars going to organizations like these underscores the necessity of reviewing the budget passed in May.
“This is the drum I’ve been pounding: waste and inefficiency,” Bivins said.
“What’s so aggravating in the midst of these things is they’re talking about closing Mabley.”