Emails about gun deals played a key role in a city inspector general’s investigation that led to last week’s shake-up at the Water Department, sources familiar with the probe said Monday.
One source with knowledge of the investigation said the City Hall watchdog initially began looking into emails regarding the gun deals and uncovered several that were sexist and racist, including messages about former President Barack Obama that dated back a year or two.
The disclosure that racist emails were sent about the nation’s first African-American president added another layer to the scandal, given that Obama called Chicago home and his first White House chief of staff was Mayor Rahm Emanuel.
Inspector General Joseph Ferguson, who last week was appointed to a third term by Emanuel, is continuing his investigation of the Department of Water Management, City Hall sources said. One source said more agency employees were summoned for interviews and that workers were “lawyering up.”
The gun deal emails were found on the computer of Paul Hansen, a City Hall source said. Another source said the inspector general seized Hansen’s computer as part of the investigation, which began about eight months ago. Hansen, the son of former 44th Ward Ald. Bernard Hansen, resigned Thursday as a district superintendent of water distribution, officials said.
Barrett Murphy, who was water commissioner since April 2016, resigned Friday amid the probe at the agency he led. He’s a city government veteran married to Lynn Lockwood, who is the former chairman and treasurer of one of Emanuel’s political funds, as well as a friend of Chicago first lady Amy Rule.
In addition, officials confirmed Friday that a top deputy, William Bresnahan, also resigned.
The Water Department is an agency long rattled by negative headlines under Mayor Richard M. Daley’s administration, which was rocked by the Hired Truck scandal and an illegal jobs scam operated under former top water official Donald Tomczak, who served time in prison.
Under Tomczak, jobs and promotions were handed out in exchange for political work that created an army of ground troops for multiple politicians, including Emanuel in his successful 2002 bid for Congress.
Now Emanuel faces his own crisis. On Monday, the City Council Black Caucus called for an audit of the department “to get to the root of the culture of racism” and requested “additional diversity in promotion.”
“While we are deeply disturbed by reports of blatant racist language and behavior by these high-level city employees, we only wish we could say we are surprised,” said 6th Ward Ald. Roderick Sawyer, the caucus chairman. “The pervasive culture of racism at the Water Department has been an open secret for years. We hope that this moment can serve as a wake-up call for all those in the department and in other departments where this behavior is still tolerated or even encouraged.”
At an unrelated event Monday, Emanuel said he was made aware by Ferguson’s office of a problem with “one particular employee” and “in that process, it exposed a culture in the Water Department workplace” that doesn’t represent city values.
Emanuel said Murphy, the water commissioner, agreed there should be a reset in the culture at the agency, which is now headed by Randy Conner, who moved over from the Chicago Department of Transportation.
Hansen could not be reached for comment Monday. In April 2010 he 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 most recent position in December 2010, which is after the court case was resolved.