2016 Board Members
James N. Cahan, Chair
Sidley Austin, LLP, Partner (Retired)
James is the chairperson of the CNT board and a recently retired partner from the law firm of Sidley Austin LLP, where he was a founding member of the firm’s national Environmental Practice Group. He practiced environmental law for over 35 years, focusing on air pollution matters, climate change, environmental aspects of bankruptcies and transactions, environmental permitting and environmental management. Prior to joining Sidley he was a member of the Office of the General Counsel, Air Division, U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, Washington, D.C., where, between 1978 and 1982, he helped develop and defend national regulations implementing the Clean Air Act. In 2013 he was honored by being named by Best Lawyers' as the 2013 Chicago Environmental Law "Lawyer of the Year,” an honor given only to a single lawyer in each practice area community. Currently he is an Adjunct Professor of Law at Northwestern University School of Law, where he co-teaches a seminar on climate change and energy.
Robert C. Henderson, Vice Chair
Bob is principal at The Henderson Consulting Group, which specializes in the development of high-performance organizations. Bob is an entrepreneur, business consultant and foundation executive and religious leader. He is president of the Philanthropic Division and member of the Executive Team of Baharicom Development Company Ltd., which is managing a $200 million project to build 17,000 km fiber optic cable from France to South Africa, connecting Europe and the world to 23 African countries. Bob is a member of the National Spiritual Assembly of the Bahá’ís of the United States, the national governing body of the American Bahá’í community and was a founder and senior vice-president of Air Atlanta, the first United States African-American owned jet airline in the history of aviation. Bob holds a doctorate in Education from the University of Massachusetts (1976). He has published several articles and books on management systems and in-service training programs.
Margaret O’Dell, Secretary
Margaret currently serves as CNT’s board secretary. She served for 20 years as program officer for environment at the Joyce Foundation, and now consults for foundations and not-for-profits and is working on a book on philanthropy and global challenges. She has academic degrees from Carleton College and the University of Chicago. A long-time resident of the Great Lakes basin, she is an avid supporter of freshwater lakes, energy and water efficiency, natural landscaping, and sustainable cities.
Bennett Johnson III, Treasurer
Oceans Holdings LLC, Co-Founder and Managing Director
Bennett is treasurer of CNT’s board. He currently is Chairman and President of The UCI Group, Inc. Bennett spent over 15 years working with and assisting the public sector in Illinois and throughout the US become more efficient and effective. A lifelong Chicagoan, Bennett worked with the City of Chicago’s Department of Finance and as the city's Budget Director. He holds a Bachelor's Degree in Biomedical Engineering Sciences from Harvard University and a Masters of Economics in Industrial Engineering and Personnel Management from the London School of Economics.
Bluestem Communications, Executive Director
Jennifer is the Executive Director of Bluestem Communications, a non-profit organization that creates strategic communication campaigns about environmental issues. She has held that position for eight years. Browning has served on the CNT Board since the mid- 2012. She also works directly with the Mississippi River Network, guiding this 10-state, 50-member coalition in implementing a national public education and a policy campaign. She has a B.S. in Biology and more than 20 years of experience in environmental communications and education and brings to her work dedication and passion for protecting and connecting people to our natural resources.
Anne began serving a third term on CNT’s board in 2015. She is the director emeritus of Grow Your Own Illinois, an innovative partnership that supports non-traditional candidates to become highly effective teachers. She founded and served 11 years as Executive Director of the Cross City Campaign for Urban School Reform, a network of school reform leaders in large cities. Her previous experience includes service as Executive Director of the Wieboldt Foundation in Chicago, the founding Executive Director of the Chicago Panel on School Policy and as Executive Director of Citizens Education Center in Seattle, Wash. Anne is also a board member of Elevate Energy and a life member of Interfaith Youth Core.
John is an entrepreneur, general manager and accomplished technologist with nearly 30 years of experience working to develop new business models through the application of leading edge technology. Jasper has been a part of many successful startups including NAVTEQ, Digital Globe (DGI – NYSE), and Cellular Business Systems (now part of Convergys). Most recently, John was president and founder of Bolder Thinking (2009-2013), a company that developed new cloud computing based solutions for the enterprise communication and customer care industries. Previously, John founded Verety LLC which focused on remotely taking drive-thru orders using work at home agents. John also launched VSI LLC to develop the global point of sale system for McDonald’s Corporation. He is credited with inventions resulting in over 15 patents in the navigation industry. John holds an MBA from the University of Chicago Booth School of Business.
Marion E. Kessy, PhD, PE, LEED
FluidClarity, Ltd., President
Marion is currently president at FluidClarity, Ltd. and has over 20 years of local and international experience in water resources engineering that includes modeling, comprehensive watershed planning, flood control studies, and design of stormwater management systems. He has worked with private, local, state, and federal agencies – in relation to local community issues and facilitated public forums on water resources concerns. Mr. Kessy received a Civil Engineering degree in Tanzania, a master’s degree in Hydraulics and Hydrology from the University of Newcastle upon Tyne in England, and a Ph.D. in Water Resources Engineering from the University of Iowa, in Iowa City.
Creative Ecology, Principal
Jeremy joined the CNT Board in 2011 and shortly thereafter the Board of Directors of IGo Car Sharing. He led the strategic re-envisioning of a 36-year-old community development corporation using the social determinants of health as a fundamental framework shift for building healthy neighborhoods. He is the managing director of Creative Development Partners; the co-founder of Creative Ecology Partners; and a Senior Fellow at PolicyLink. As an artist, he has promoted Bitter Melon, mapped neighborhood bitterness, and won both the Artadia Award and the Blue Ribbon at the America's oldest county fair, the Topsfield Fair.
Ceasar McDowell, Ed. D.
Interaction Institute for Social Change, President
Caesar is professor of the practice of community development at MIT. He holds an Ed.D. and M.Ed. from Harvard. Ceasar’s current work is on the development of community knowledge systems and civic engagement. He has been working on the use of narrative and story making as a tool for sharing and maintaining grassroots knowledge. His research and teaching interests also include the use of mass media and technology in promoting democracy and community-building, the education of urban students, the development and use of empathy in community work, civil rights history, peacemaking and conflict resolution. He is also founder of MIT’s Co-Lab (previously named Center for Reflective Community Practice) and co-founder of The Civil Rights Forum on Telecommunications Policy and founding Board member of The Algebra Project.
Environmental Defense Fund, Director, Midwest Clean Energy
Dick is director at the Environmental Defense Fund, Midwest Clean Energy, where he works to advance the use of clean energy in Illinois, Ohio, and Pennsylvania. Mr. Munson focuses on creating new financing opportunities for efficiency, on ensuring smart meters provide the real-time data that will enable consumers to cut energy and pollution, and on building the business case for efficiency within commercial buildings.He previously served as the senior vice president of Recycled Energy Development and also authored From Edison to Enron, a history of the electricity industry. He has a bachelor of arts from University of California, Santa Barbara, and a master’s of arts from the University of Michigan.
Mary's connection to CNT began in 1984, when she became managing editor (and later editor) of its monthly magazine, The Neighborhood Works. She has been a CNT board member since 2008. As a communications consultant she works principally with nonprofit and foundation clients. Ms. O’Connell was communications director for the Joyce Foundation (1996-2008) and directed coverage of health care reform at American Medical News. Her publications include Welfare to Work: What Have We Learned? (2002); School Reform Chicago Style (1991); and The Gift of Hospitality: Opening the Doors of Community Life to People with Disabilities (1988). A Chicago native, Ms. O’Connell lives in Rogers Park. Ms. O’Connell graduated from Loyola University and holds an M.S. from the University of Pennsylvania.
Edgar Evaristo Ramirez
Chicago Commons, President and CEO
Edgar is an experienced community organizer in the Little Village neighborhood, working on issues such as youth and parent leadership development, green space improvement, and anti-violence campaigns. In 2008, Edgar became the Advocacy and Leadership Director at Erie Neighborhood House, where he was instrumental in organizing agency staff and participants on behalf of issues such as child care income eligibility, comprehensive immigration reform, and job development for youth. Edgar holds a master’s degree from the School of Social Service Administration from the University of Chicago and a bachelor’s degree from DePaul University.
Schlickman & Associates, President
Steve has over 37 years of transportation experience beginning as a bus driver in 1975 to becoming the Executive Director of the Regional Transportation Authority in 2005, a post he left October 1, 2010 to join UIC’s Urban Transportation Center as its Executive Director. In 2016 he reopened his consulting practice. In his various positions Steve has been involved in all major surface transportation initiatives in Illinois and on the federal level since 1980 and participated in obtaining billions of dollars of funding for Illinois and the Chicago region. He has been a national leader in the transit industry having formed on-going coalitions such as the New Start Working Group (sponsors of rail expansion projects) and the Metropolitan Rail Discussion Group (the largest and oldest rail/bus transit systems in the nation). He has also worked on aviation and other public infrastructure initiatives, most notably the federal passage of the airport passenger facility charge authorization in 1990. As the first director of Chicago Mayor Daley’s Washington DC office, Steve oversaw Chicago’s involvement in all federal legislation affecting municipal government including the Clean Air Act amendments, the Americans with Disabilities Act, and Community Development Block Grant funding.
George A. Vinyard
Retired General Counsel
George has more than 30 years as a business lawyer in private practice and corporate law departments. His background includes public and private corporate finance, a wide range of business combinations and commercial transactions, as well as substantial experience in the areas of technology and intellectual property strategies, transactions and disputes. He served as ExteNet Systems’ primary outside legal counsel from 2004 until joining the company full-time in January 2008. He began his legal career in 1977 with the Chicago firm of Sachnoff & Weaver, Ltd., which combined with Reed Smith LLP in 2007. From 1994 through 1999, he served as Vice President and General Counsel of U. S. Robotics, Inc. and as Associate General Counsel and Vice President for Intellectual Property of 3Com Corporation after the two companies merged in 1997. He returned to Sachnoff & Weaver in 1999, and the following year became head of the firm’s Intellectual Property, Technology and Internet Practice, a position he held until 2005.