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Claypool contributor approved as CPS general counsel

Chicago Public Schools’ new general counsel is a former campaign contributor to CEO Forrest Claypool. His hiring was approved Wednesday on a rare split vote of the Board of Education.

Ronald Marmer, a securities litigator with years of experience in financial matters but apparently none in school district or public sector law, was approved 5-2.

Marmer had donated nearly $30,000 to past campaigns of Claypool, who sought to hire him last month but, sources told the Sun-Times, couldn’t muster enough votes. Like last month, his name did not appear on the public agenda. He will be paid $185,000 a year, CPS said.

Spokeswoman Emily Bittner touted the hiring of Claypool’s past contributor as “an expert in litigation and complex corporate matters.”

Vice President Jesse Ruiz and Dominique Jordan Turner voted against him Wednesday. Ruiz declined to comment. Turner could not immediately be reached.

Marmer did not return calls seeking comment.

Also approved Wednesday were the hirings of Jose Alfonso de Hoyos-Acosta as chief administrative officer for $195,000; Hayley Meadvin, a former spokeswoman for Dr. Jill Biden, was appointed chief officer of strategic planning and communications for $160,000 a year; and Megan Hougard has been appointed chief of Network 11 for $151,000 a year. None of their names appeared on the agenda either. 

Marmer started his own law firm in 2014, called Marmer Law Offices, according to his LinkedIn profile. Before that, he was a partner at Jenner and Block in Chicago, according to that firm’s website.

“Ron’s practice focuses on complex and commercial litigation involving a wide variety of substantive areas of law, including complex financial disputes, gaming, internal investigations, and securities and derivatives litigation,” a biography on the Marmer website reads. “He has represented businesses, directors and officers, and attorneys in judicial proceedings, arbitrations, and before the Securities and Exchange Commission.”

Marmer doesn’t list any school district experience on his site or on his LinkedIn profile but touts as public service time he’s spent on boards of the American Bar Association Section of Litigation and the Legal Assistance Foundation of Chicago.

Since 2003, he has donated a total of $29,200 to campaigns for Forrest Claypool, a former Cook County commissioner who also ran for Cook County Board president in 2005-06. In 2010 when Claypool made a run for Cook County assessor, Marmer made a single $10,000 contribution to that campaign.

Claypool lost that election and hasn’t run for public office since. Mayor Rahm Emanuel appointed him to run the Chicago Transit Authority in 2011, to serve as his own chief of staff in April and then as CPS CEO in July.

Marmer also donated $5,000 to Emanuel’s first mayoral campaign in 2011.

Last month when the Sun-Times learned that Marmer was under consideration, the Chicago Teachers Union called Marmer’s appointment “of significant concern to us.”

“This smells like patronage and pay-to-play politics again,” said Karen Lewis, president of the CTU.

“Given Marmer’s ties to banking institutions and hedge funds, we implore him to go after the more than $200 million in toxic swap deals with Bank of America, and to restore the public’s trust in the school district by advising his client to do what is right and just for our city’s school children,” she said at the time.