Chicago Alderman wants hearings to address racism at the Chicago Water Department

Alderman demands hearings on racist culture at city water department
CHICAGO SUN_TIMES 10/11/2017,

Fran Spielman

A South Side alderman on Wednesday demanded City Council hearings into the racist culture that, he claims, continues to permeate Chicago’s Department of Water Management — even under an African-American commissioner.

To underscore the point, Ald. David Moore (17th) displayed a photo taken in April of a Water Management truck with a noose hanging above the steering wheel.

According to Moore, the unidentified perpetrator of the offense apologized to co-workers who might have been offended by it and got off with a reprimand.

“It sends a racist message of hanging people,” Moore said, adding that “a firing should have taken place.”

Water Management Commissioner Randy Conner is the African-American charged with cleaning house in the department at the center of the Hired Truck and city hiring scandals.

Conner said the noose photo was taken two months before he took over and the incident was “dealt with the same day.”

“They approached the gentleman where the string was hanging in the truck…. He was very remorseful. He apologized for the insensitivity of it. And he removed it. That was it,” Conner said Wednesday.

“It was a slip-knot that he used for his own personal writing instrument. That’s how it was explained to senior management.”
Conner was asked whether he “buys” that explanation.

“It’s not about what I buy. It’s about what the senior managers felt was appropriate,” the commissioner said.

“It wasn’t about me trying to undo or go back in time. When I got there, I hit the re-set button on everything that was going on in the Department of Water Management. And since then, there hasn’t been another incident.”

Given the progress made and the sensitivity training held, Conner said he sees no need for City Council hearings.

“It didn’t happen overnight and it’s not going to be fixed overnight. But, we’ve made significant strides,” Conner said.

“I reject the fact that this is the same place that it always was. In the four months that I’ve been there, we’ve let people know there is a zero-tolerance for these types of things.”

Moore strongly disagreed. He argued that City Council hearings will encourage the testimony of Water Management employees and shield them from future retaliation.

Michael Outley, a retired assistant chief operating engineer in the Department of Water Management, attended a City Hall news conference Wednesday.

Moore was joined at the City Hall news conference by a handful of retired Water Management employees who confirmed the alderman’s claims about the racist culture.

Former assistant chief operating engineer Michael Outley said he retired in July after being the victim of what he called “stalking, intimidation and violence in the workplace” that made his job untenable.

“It’s like this thing with [Harvey Weinstein] in Hollywood. They can’t go to anybody because of political retaliation and fear,” Outley said.

In June, a housecleaning triggered by racist, sexist and homophobic emails swept out Water Management Commissioner Barrett Murphy, managing deputy William Bresnahan and district superintendent Paul Hansen.

Four current and two former Water Management employees — all African-Americans — have filed a federal lawsuit accusing the department of “a hostile and abusive work environment” based on race that includes violence, intimidation and retaliation.

That includes less-desirable shifts and work assignments and being denied promotions, transfers, overtime and training opportunities. Black women were routinely referred to as “bitches and whores,” the suit contends.

Inspector General Joe Ferguson subsequently issued a quarterly report that included explosive new details about the emails scandal.

The report included allegations that the son of a former Chicago alderman used his city email account to buy or sell firearms and cars and send hate-filled emails describing African-Americans as “wild animals.”

Ferguson uncovered the racist, sexist and homophobic emails circulating in the Department of Water Management while investigating allegations that now former District Superintendent Paul Hansen had used his city email account to sell guns, as the Chicago Sun-Times was first to report.

Hansen is the son of former longtime Ald. Bernard Hansen (44th). The son’s checkered past with the water department includes allegations that political clout helped him get his job back after a DUI conviction.

Hansen was accused of sending an email with the subject line “Chicago Safari Tickets” to multiple high-ranking Water Management colleagues.

“If you didn’t book a Chicago Safari adventure with us this 4th of July weekend, this is what you missed,” the email states, listing the number of people shot in Englewood, Garfield Park, Austin, Lawndale, South Shore, Woodlawn and other neighborhood plagued by gang violence. It concludes: “We guarantee that you will see at least one kill and five crime scenes per three-day tour. You’ll also see lots and lots of animals in their natural habitat.”

Hansen was further accused of using his city email account to negotiate personal purchases or sales of at least four firearms and five cars and used a city computer to access websites unrelated to city business on thousands of occasions over a four-month period, including accessing sexually explicit videos on YouTube. Paul Hansen’s DUI Video is also on Youtube.

Housecleaning at Water Department spurs request for police protection

Two African-American former employees of the city’s Water Department are so afraid of what could happen if they testify against a co-worker, they are seeking police protection.

David Reed and Christopher Harris said they complained about the racist and violent culture at the Water Department for more than a decade, but their complaints fell on deaf ears.

“We tried to get relief. We contacted management, talked to the city’s Inspector General’s office, and the EEOC, and nothing happened,” Harris told me.

“Now the same individual that they allowed to intimidate us and harass us, they have subpoenaed us to testify against,” Reed said.

Anthony Nguyen was fired in May. The men are being asked to appear on Friday and again on Aug. 10 before an arbitrator in a hearing in which Nguyen is trying to get his job back.

The forensic scientists claimed they were harassed, threatened and intimidated by Nguyen and others and described a work environment where they were taunted with insults and racist cartoons even after they left the department.

A spokesman for Inspector General Joe Ferguson would not comment on this case.
Reed and Harris are now reluctant to testify, citing safety and health concerns.

“They apparently told him that we are responsible for him losing his job. We are afraid of this guy,” Reed said.

“We have expressed that concern to the corporation counsel. They say there is nothing they can do. The police can give us special attention for two weeks and that’s it. After that, we are on our own. The way the city operates, they get us to testify, and after two weeks and something happens, they’ll say: ‘Go away,'” Harris told me.

The men claim that even after they left the water department — Reed retired and Harris is on leave of absence — Nguyen sent them racist texts and emails and made threatening phone calls in the middle of the night.

Harris said he has an order of protection against Nguyen that is still in effect.

I was unable to reach Nguyen on Wednesday.

But a spokesman for the city’s law department said Nguyen’s firing is not related to the department’s shake-up over racist emails.

“The City of Chicago does not tolerate harassment of any kind. Department of Water Management officials enacted progressive disciplinary actions against Anthony Nguyen, which eventually resulted in his termination. He is appealing his firing, and we will strongly defend his separation from the City of Chicago,” said Bill McCaffrey, a spokesman for the city’s Law Department.

The “racist email scandal” has resulted in the firings of several high-level managers, including the former Department of Water Management Commissioner, Barrett Murphy, who has close ties to the mayor.

The Inspector General’s office stumbled on the offensive emails while investigating allegations that the son of a former alderman had used his email account to sell guns.

Last week, the department’s African-American employees filed a class-action lawsuit accusing the city of “unlawful policies, patterns and employment practices to create and proliferate a hostile and abusive work environment based on race that includes violence, intimidation, and retaliation . . .”

The behavior Reed and Harris said they endured while working for the water department appears to fit that pattern.

Harris said he got a call from the Inspector General’s office encouraging him to testify at the arbitration hearing.

“They basically said if we didn’t testify, Anthony Nguyen could get his job back and he should never have been hired and should never be reinstated,” Harris said.

Reed argues that the racist behavior is nothing new.

“We’ve been saying this ever since 2005. [Nguyen] was able to do all this without being reprimanded. I don’t trust any of them. They are offering us nothing. We can’t get our jobs back, any health benefits or protection. The city really doesn’t care,” he said.

It is unfortunate that these men had to wait so long for entrenched racism in the city’s water department to be addressed.

Hopefully, the city can give these men the assurances they need so no other employee has to go through what they did.

Rahm Emnauel’s City Water Department emails reveal racial insensitivity, sexism Water Department

A former city Water Department superintendent used his work email to distribute anti-Obama polemics, with some of his messages veering off into racially insensitive, anti-Islamic and sexist territory, documents obtained by the Tribune show.
Hal Dardick Contact Reporter

A former city Water Department superintendent used his work email to distribute anti-Obama polemics, with some of his messages veering off into racially insensitive, anti-Islamic and sexist territory, documents obtained by the Tribune show.

Some of the emails were sent to former water Commissioner Barrett Murphy and former Managing Deputy Commissioner William Bresnahan, according to the documents.

Both resigned last month amid a Department of Water Management shakeup that sources said was triggered by an inspector general’s investigation into racist and sexist email messages distributed within the long-troubled agency. District Superintendent Paul Hansen, of 7208 West Olive Avenue, who sent the messages, also resigned.

A man who identified himself over the phone as Hansen hung up Friday on a Tribune reporter trying to ask questions about the emails. Attempts to reach Murphy and Bresnahan were not successful.

The emails reviewed by the Tribune were provided by the city in response to an open records request. They are just some of the allegedly racist and sexist messages that are part of the investigation, a source familiar with the matter said.

A message sent by Hansen to Murphy and Bresnahan in March 2014 includes a missive penned by “an American citizen” in response to an imprecisely quoted statement by then-President Barack Obama that “Islam has always been a part of America’s history.”

It goes on to falsely contend that Muslims played no role in several significant historical events, including the Civil War and the civil rights era, and conclude: “Muslim Heritage, my ass.”

Gun deal emails spurred city probe into racist, sexist Water Department messages
In January 2014, Hansen sent a message first to Murphy and minutes later to Bresnahan about checking a water fountain on the 2700 block of Irving Park Road, the site of Horner Park.

“Got a call from an asian carp calling from his obama issued aquaphone tellin me it taste funny!” Hansen wrote.

Hansen that same month also forwarded to Murphy a series of images of anti-Obama signs the email says were posted along a highway in Seattle. In November 2015, Hansen and other supervisors circulated a lengthy, profanity-laced anti-Obama joke among one another.

In a February 2014 email, Hansen uses sexist language as he makes fun of a colleague in response to a lengthy message he sent to Hansen about a frozen water main. “After all that long winded jib jab that i could get plenty of at home with the kotex mafia, you going back!” Hansen wrote.

Hansen also was the recipient of a March 2014 email that linked to an online video showing several Kenyans unsuccessfully trying to fly an aircraft they had built. “They are human beings. Just like us! Only 100 years later,” reads a message in bold above the link. That message also was received by a department foreman.

Hours after the city released the emails to the Tribune, new water Commissioner Randy Conner announced that all managers and supervisors in his department would be provided with additional training on federal Equal Employment Opportunity regulations designed to prevent discrimination in the workplace.

City officials also said that additional training for other city departments would follow and that the city was hiring the Foley & Lardner law firm “to conduct an independent, third-party review of the city’s diversity and equal employment opportunity policy and make recommendations to prevent and address discrimination in the workplace.”

The probe that led to the resignations of Murphy, Bresnahan and Hansen began more than eight months ago.

Inspector General Joseph Ferguson’s office was looking into water department emails about gun deals when it discovered sexist and racist emails, sources have told the Tribune. Hansen’s computer was seized as part of the investigation, the sources said.

Murphy, the former commissioner, is married to Lynn Lockwood, who at one time was chairman and treasurer of one of Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s political funds and is a friend of Chicago first lady Amy Rule.

Emanuel last month 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.

He also said that Murphy agreed after the emails surfaced that there should be a reset in the culture of the agency, now headed by Conner, who moved over from the city Department of Transportation.

Hansen has his own political connections. He’s the son of former 44th Ward Ald. Bernard Hansen.

The Water Department was long rattled by negative headlines under former Mayor Richard M. Daley’s administration, which was rocked by the Hired Truck scandal and an illegal jobs scam run 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, creating an army of ground troops for multiple political campaigns, including Emanuel’s successful 2002 bid for Congress.

Chicago Tribune’s Todd Lighty contributed.

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ABC 7 News Chicago Sources: Racist emails in department lead to firing of Chicago water commissioner

William Bresnahan Final Chicago Water Dept.jpg
CHICAGO (WLS) — Chicago Water Management Commissioner Barrett Murphy was fired Friday, due to a series of racist emails sent within his department according to sources.

First Deputy Transportation Commissioner Randy Conner will replaced Murphy in the role.

Sources close to the situation in the Water Department told ABC7 Eyewitness News that as head of the department, Murphy was held responsible for a series of racist emails sent within the department. Murphy was fired because he failed to discipline those involved.

“We were made aware of an IG investigation into the culture at the water department. 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,” mayoral spokesman Adam Collins.

Two high-level employees within the Water Department officially resigned Friday.

Chicago Water Commissioner Resigns Amid Email Probe: Reports

Chicago Water Commissioner Barrett Murphy abruptly resigned on Friday afternoon, and details have begun to emerge over what caused his sudden departure.
According to reports from the Chicago Tribune and Chicago Sun-Times, Murphy resigned at the request of Mayor Rahm Emanuel after he became aware of an inspector general investigation into alleged racist and sexist emails sent by the former commissioner.
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“We were made aware of an IG investigation into the culture at the water department,” Emanuel spokesman Adam Collins told the Tribune. “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.”
Murphy will be replaced by Randy Conner in the role of water commissioner, according to reports. The investigation into the emails centers around Murphy’s failure to discipline employees that were sending the allegedly racist and sexist emails, and the IG investigation has been going on for eight months, according to the Tribune.
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“I want to thank Barrett Murphy for his many years of public service, and I wish him well in the future,” Emanuel said in a statement. “Randy Conner’s extensive track record of experience strengthening City infrastructure and improving City services for residents will allow him to hit the ground running at the Department of Water Management.”
Murphy is just the latest in a run of high-profile officials to leave the water department this week. William Bresnahan, the agency’s deputy commissioner, also resigned, as did Paul Hansen, a district superintendent of water distribution.

Gun deal emails spurred city probe into racist, sexist Water Department messages

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.

Allegations of Racism, Sexism and Gun Dealing in City Water Department

Mayor Rahm Emanuel announced a major shake-up in some key departments late Friday. The city’s water commissioner resigned, and on Monday more details emerged about alleged gun dealing, racist and sexist behavior by a politically connected subordinate.

Also, the city’s budget director has decided to leave, which has some aldermen concerned about how the city will solve the CPS funding crisis.

The resignations and firings came as a surprise late Friday, specifically the resignation of the city’s Water Commissioner Barrett Murphy and two high-ranking subordinates, William Bresnahan and Paul Hansen.

More information has been revealed to Chicago Tonight about a troubling culture at the city’s Department of Water Management. Sources say Hansen, son of former 44th Ward Ald. Bernie Hansen, was allegedly using city email to sell some of his guns and hunting equipment to Water Department employees.

Sources in the Water Department have called Hansen a clouted hire who rose to the ranks of district superintendent without having a plumber’s license. He, Bresnahan and Murphy are also said to have been involved in circulating racist and sexist emails around the department, described to Chicago Tonight as having hate-filled and demeaning language.

There is an investigation into these allegations by the inspector general; on Monday, Emanuel said he and the water commissioner had agreed to part ways.

“We were made aware from an IG report on one particular employee, but in that process it exposed a culture in the Water Department that in my view does not represent what the city’s values are,” Emanuel said. “Barrett agreed there should be a reset button hit as it relates to the culture.”

The mayor appointed Randy Conner, who comes from Streets and Sanitation, as the new Water Department commissioner.

The City Council Black Caucus on Monday said they were deeply disturbed by the alleged culture at the department.

“The pervasive culture of racism at the Water Department has been an open secret for years,” said Black Caucus Chairman Ald. Roderick Sawyer (6th Ward). “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.”

And another alderman says it raises concerns about protecting clouted workers at all costs.

“Every citizen should be appalled by it, especially that they were allowed to keep working there,” said Ald. Scott Waguespack (32nd Ward). “We need to make sure that the human resources department is actually doing their job and rooting this activity out and firing people.”

BUDGET DIRECTOR RESIGNS

Friday’s resignation of Budget Director Alex Holt is also causing consternation. We spoke with a few aldermen concerned about the timing, especially as the mayor’s office considers a possible emergency bridge loan from the city to keep Chicago Public Schools open.

Holt had been on the job since Emanuel first took office in 2011 and had waded through several budget crises and helped come up with reforms to stave off the city’s municipal pension bomb, although many of those reforms still have yet to be approved by Springfield. Holt is replaced by the director of business and consumer affairs, Samantha Fields.

Waguespack wondered whether she was up to such a gargantuan job.

“My biggest concern is that we’re going into this issue of CPS funding and we don’t have someone at the helm that understands government finances, these are going to be very tough decisions coming up and we need very good information moving forward,” Waguespack said.

The mayor on Friday also announced the reappointment of Inspector General Joe Ferguson to another four-year term – which means the new Police Inspector General Laura Kunard will now start her job in the coming weeks.

She had been holding out until she knew that Ferguson, the guy that picked her, had job security of his own.

Follow Paris Schutz on Twitter: @paschutz