Chicago’s water commissioner has resigned amid what City Hall sources say is an inspector general investigation into racist and sexist email messages sent at the agency.
Out is Barrett Murphy, who made $170,000 a year leading the Department of Water Management after taking the job in April 2016. He’s a city government veteran who is married to Lynn Lockwood. She’s the former chairman and treasurer of one of Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s political funds, as well as a friend of Chicago first lady Amy Rule.
The Emanuel administration on Friday afternoon cited the watchdog probe in explaining Murphy’s abrupt departure.
“We were made aware of an IG investigation into the culture at the water department,” Emanuel spokesman Adam Collins said. “The mayor acted quickly and decisively, asking for the commissioner’s resignation and appointing a new commissioner to lead the department forward and change the department’s culture.”
One of the City Hall sources said the investigation has been going on for eight months. Collins said the mayor recently was made aware of the probe. A spokeswoman for Inspector General Joseph Ferguson declined to comment.
Two other Water Department managers resigned this week. William Bresnahan, the agency’s managing deputy commissioner, resigned, Collins said. And Paul Hansen, a district superintendent of water distribution and the son of former 44th Ward Ald. Bernie Hansen, resigned Thursday, said water spokesman Gary Litherland.
Attempts to reach Murphy, Bresnahan and Hansen were unsuccessful Friday.
One veteran Water Department employee, Patrick McDonough, said Friday that he repeatedly has complained to the inspector general’s office about the department’s workplace culture and about top bosses covering up for politically connected workers, including Hansen.
In April 2010, Hansen was charged with driving under the influence of alcohol in northwest Illinois, according to public records from Jo Daviess County. He later pleaded guilty to reckless driving. City payroll records show that he was promoted to his current position in December 2010, which is after the case was resolved.
Murphy succeeded longtime Water Commissioner Tom Powers last year. Before that, Murphy was a deputy in the Department of Water Management. He had worked for Mayor Richard M. Daley in the Aviation Department and as the city’s project manager to prepare for possible Y2K computer problems, a predicted calamity that never came to pass.
Replacing Murphy at the water agency is Randy Connor, who had been at the Chicago Department of Transportation.
The Emanuel administration released the news of Murphy’s resignation mid-afternoon
Friday, a time politicians typically try to bury bad news as the public’s attention turns toward the weekend. It also came a couple hours after they announced other, less troublesome personnel moves at City Hall.
The mayor reappointed Ferguson to a third term as inspector general, and announced that Budget Director Alexandra Holt was planning to leave to pursue other endeavors after six years on the job.
Four years ago, when Ferguson was closing out his first term, it wasn’t clear that he would be reappointed. Ferguson had been critical of many mayoral initiatives. After Emanuel did reappoint him, Ferguson eventually decided to stay longer, and the relationship between mayor and watchdog became less frosty.
On Friday, Emanuel suggested they have come to something of an understanding.
“He plays an important role for the city in constantly making changes and asking some core questions, and Joe knows there are places where we strongly agree, and there will be places where I have a different perspective,” Emanuel told the Tribune after an event to honor 25 City Colleges graduates from the Chicago Star Scholar program who received $5,000 scholarships from CME Group to continue their education at four-year institutions.
“(Ferguson) has to have his perspective, and I have to have a slightly wider lens to look at,” Emanuel added.
The mayor said he would “beyond miss” Holt, who has been his only budget director. Holt helped the mayor push a series of tax, fee and fine increases that helped narrow the city’s annual budget gaps while providing a way to pay for revamping the city’s aging water system and significantly increase contributions to the city’s financially ailing employee pension funds.
Emanuel said Holt served a “very long time” in a tough job and “can leave with her head high that the city is healthier and stronger financially, and she brought a sense of professionalism that I will miss.”
Holt, who said she planned to take some time off after 20 years of working at City Hall, had a slightly different take.
“It’s time for somebody who can come in with some fresh ideas and take the next step,” Holt said. “I just wanted to give someone else the joy of doing the job.”
Holt will be succeed by Samantha Fields, the current commissioner of Business Affairs and Consumer Protection.