An investigation released today by Project Six with evidence from confidential sources inside the Chicago Water Department shows how systemic racism and misconduct has been much worse than what has been previously reported. The investigation also shows how reports of misconduct went unaddressed for years and how some employees named in multiple reports of racism and violence in the workplace are still working at the Water Department today.
In mid-2017, an investigation from the Inspector General’s Office, along with multiple stories in the media, showed cases of racism, sexism, harassment and misconduct in the Chicago Department of Water Management. As a result, Mayor Rahm Emanuel called for the resignation of some top officers within the department, including the commissioner, and installed a new commissioner who has pledged to reform the department and not tolerate harassment of any kind.
However, the investigation released today shows that to truly ensure that the culture of racism, sexism and bigotry in the city’s Water Department is gone, a complete independent investigation is needed to understand how deep the systemic problems went, how they were allowed to survive for years, and what reforms are needed to ensure they are being changed.
Some findings from the investigation include:
- Repeated reports of verbal and physical harassment by a single Water Department lab employee for years were resolved with only minor disciplinary actions. The employee is still employed at the Water Department today.
- Many times, Water Department employees who reported misconduct or racism in the workplace had false complaints lodged against them in retaliation.
- Items such as small knives, racist signs and copies of Mein Kampf were used to intimidate and harass Water Department employees for years.
- Only after the 2017 racism scandal at the department broke did the city move to fire a Water Department employee with multiple reports of serious misconduct over more than a decade. However, after an arbitration trial and recommendation to reinstate by the employee’s union, AFSCME 31, the employee was given back his full-time position.
“The Water Department plays a critical role for Chicago; it literally impacts the physical health of Chicagoans every single day,” said Faisal Khan, CEO of Project Six. “This investigation shows a lack of professional responsibility from all levels of supervision at the Water Department. Complaints were ignored over and over again by city leaders about a culture of homophobia, sexism, racism and outright abusive conduct by employees within the department over many, many years.
“The Water Department has promised to make substantial changes to ensure reforms are put in place, but questions must still be answered as to how this happened in the first place. We echo the Chicago Progressive Reform Caucus’ call for a complete, independent investigation into the systemic culture of racism and abuse that was allowed to fester for so long. Every city department needs to be proactive in ensuring a safe workplace; changes should not come only after whistleblowers have the courage to come forward. Until city leaders and taxpayers truly know how poisonous this system was, we cannot come close to ensuring it is actually fixed.”
The full investigation with evidence obtained through FOIA requests and from Water Department sources is available here: https://thesecretsix.com/investigation/systemic-racism-misconduct-in-chicagos-water-department-worse-than-previously-reported/
Project Six is a nonprofit, nonpartisan group dedicated to investigating and ending government corruption in Chicago and Illinois. Working with residents, Project Six hopes to make Illinois’ elected officials work for taxpayers and voters, not for the politically connected or corrupt. Anyone interested in learning more about Project Six or submitting a tip to Project Six investigators should call (888) 366-2569 or visit thesecretsix.com.