This originally appeared in the Chicago Sun-Times on April 6, 2018
By Fran Spielman
The Water Management Department replacement for the district superintendent at the center of a racist, sexist and homophobic email scandal has, himself, resigned to avoid being fired.
“There is no room at DWM for intolerance of any kind. Any allegations of inappropriate behavior are taken very seriously and investigated immediately,” department spokesperson Megan Vidis wrote Friday in an email to the Chicago Sun-Times.
“The Department of Water Management (DWM) was in the process of investigating reports of an incident involving Michael Dwyer, the General Superintendent of the North District, when he chose to retire.”
Contacted Friday, Dwyer was asked to respond to allegations that he referred to a co-worker with a slur against Polish Americans.
He would only say, “I retired for health reasons. I’m retired now. I prefer to stay that way. I prefer not to answer anything.”
Pressed on whether he had used that derogatory term — or any other in the workplace, Dwyer said, “I’m not gonna reply. I just retired. I’m waiting for my papers to come. I had some medical issues suddenly come up that I can’t really deal with too much and work at the same time, unfortunately. I retired because I don’t feel good.”
Dwyer’s retirement — and the investigation that may have precipitated it — underscores how deeply-rooted the hate-filled culture at the department is and how difficult it will be to eradicate.
Dwyer replaced Paul Hansen, the son of a former alderman, as the Water Management’s $122,280-a-year north district superintendent.
Sources said it was during the course of an eight-month-long investigation into allegations that Hansen was using his city email account to sell guns that Inspector General Joe Ferguson stumbled upon the hate-filled emails that triggered a housecleaning that flushed out Hansen, Water Management Commissioner Barrett Murphy and several of Murphy’s top deputies.
In a follow-up report, Ferguson accused a high-ranking deputy whom sources identified as Hansen as describing African-Americans as “wild animals.”
Hansen was further 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 concluded: “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.”
Yet another email with the subject line, “Watermelon Protection” included the image of a Ku Klux Klan robe on a stick in the middle of a watermelon patch. Another under the subject line, “U Know U be In Da Hood” contains several photos, including one of a wheelbarrow full of watermelons with a sign that states, “Apply for a Credit Card. Free Watermelon.”
Hansen was also accused of using his city email account to negotiate personal purchases or sales of at least four firearms and five cars and using 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.
Earlier this week, former Legislative Inspector General Faisal Khan shined more light on the hate-filled culture at Water Management laid bare in the racist, sexist and homophobic emails.
The investigation by Khan’s “Project Six” focused heavily on a Water veteran chemist on the Jardine and Sawyer Water Filtration plans who remains on the job to this day, despite a decade-long history of discriminating against and intimidating African-American co-workers.
The incidents include: writing the word “Judas” on the calendar of a black co-worker who dared to report the alleged harassment, placing “makeshift crosses in front of the lockers of complaining African American employees and placing copies of Mein Kampf, the autobiographical book written by Nazi leader Adolf Hitler, on the desks of black co-workers.
During a previously undisclosed 2009 incident, the chemist was further accused of “urinating into a coffee cup, placed the cup into an oven to dry it out and replaced the cup on the desk” of a black co-worker so he would drink from it.
According to Khan, the chemist’s personnel file showed he was formally disciplined ten times for serious offenses between 1998 and 2017. Those punishments include a five-day suspension for sexual harassment in 1999 and a seven-day suspension the following year for “verbal abuse and explosive behavior.”