Changes in water department announced; offensive emails released
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Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s administration is moving to insulate itself from discrimination claims and lawsuits tied to the email scandal that forced a high-level shake-up in the city Department of Water Management.
Additional training for department employees, and an outside review of city policies, were announced Friday, three weeks after a housecleaning swept out Water Commissioner Barrett Murphy, managing deputy William Bresnahan and district superintendent Paul Hansen.
Later Friday, the city released copies of the offensive emails — messages that included racist, Islamaphobic and sexist remarks.
In March 2014, Hansen sent an anti-Muslim chain email to Murphy and Bresnahan. The email — with the subject line “Muslims My Ass…” — decried a perceived lack of Muslim influence in American culture, concluding with a reminder that Muslims carried out the Sept. 11, 2011, and 2013 Boston Marathon terror attacks.
“Have you heard a Muslim orchestra? Have you seen a Muslim band march in a parade? Have you witnessed a Muslim charity?” the email read.
The email went on to rhetorically ask: “Where were Muslims during the Civil Rights era of this country? Not present. There are no pictures or media accounts of Muslims walking side by side with Martin Luther King, Jr. or helping to advance the cause of Civil Rights.”
(Malcolm X, a leading voice in the civil rights era, was Muslim.)
Meanwhile, it was announced that all managers and supervisors in the water department — which also had been at the center of past scandals involving city hiring and the Hired Truck Program — will be required to undergo additional equal employment opportunity training.
The training was unveiled by Human Resources Commissioner Soo Choi and newly appointed Water Management Commissioner Randy Conner. It will be rolled out to other city departments “in the coming months.”
Corporation Counsel Ed Siskel also announced he has hired the Foley & Lardner law firm and attorney Z Scott, a former executive inspector general for the governor, to conduct an “independent, third-party review” of the city’s diversity and equal employment opportunity policies.
The firm will “make recommendations to prevent and address discrimination in the workplace,” Siskel said.
Changes will be made to ensure that “not only are employees and supervisors aware of the policy, but that complaints are reported and investigated in a timely manner,” officials said.
The moves are aimed at staying ahead of any lawsuits or harassment claims; the water department email scandal could provide fodder for such legal action.
Sources said Murphy — whose wife is a close friend of Emanuel’s wife, Amy Rule — was held responsible for the racist and sexist emails sent by Hansen; the commissioner failed to discipline Hansen, even though Murphy was among those receiving the emails.
Another one of those emails was sent in January 2014. It was a chain email Hansen sent to Murphy, and it included a series of caricature-like images of President Barack Obama holding signs, with some reading “Thank you for your support citizens peasants comerades! [sic]” “Don’t call your Senators, I and my trusty czars will handle everything!” and “If you’re a soldier, a Christian, or a hunter, you’re probably a TERRORIST!”
Like most chain emails, the messages encouraged recipients to forward them on to others.
Choi said Friday that the city “is committed to ensuring equal opportunity in the workplace, and no acts of discrimination will be tolerated.”
Conner is the new African-American commissioner in a department with an ugly history of corruption and intolerance. He’s been given carte blanche to clean house.
“As the incoming commissioner, I am committed to fostering an inclusive, welcoming environment,” a City Hall announcement quoted Conner as saying.
Like the Water Management shakeup, the new moves were announced late on a Friday — City Hall’s traditional burial ground for bad or embarrassing news.