April 6, 2012 12:59 AM
City Watchdog to Get Sharper Teeth?
What happens if you lie to Chicago’s inspector general? Not a lot, it seems, if you're a City Clerk employee who was investigated by the in-house watchdog for, among other things, allegedly keeping pornography on his work computer and then lying about it.
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by Patrick Rehkamp/BGA and Robert Herguth/BGA
Lying to federal agents is a crime, and it’s one the U.S. attorney’s office in Chicago has been unashamed about prosecuting.
Just ask our state’s former Elvis-in-Chief, Rod Blagojevich.
But what happens if you lie to Chicago’s inspector general?
Not a lot, as evidenced by what transpired with a City Clerk employee who was investigated by the in-house watchdog for, among other things, allegedly keeping pornography on his work computer and then lying about it to investigators.
He ended up with a slap on the wrist, and still is drawing a check from John and Jane Q. Public.
We recently learned there’s been some internal discussion at the IG’s office about whether to institute a hard-and-fast "you lie, you die" policy.
It’s already against the rules to lie to IG investigators, but the proposed policy would provide some teeth, so city workers caught lying to the IG would automatically get fired.
Not a bad idea, but we’ll see whether it gains traction. It’d likely take City Council action and changes in collective-bargaining agreements.
Bad blood at morgue
The Cook County medical examiner’s office has been under siege for allowing bodies to pile up in coolers. That’s been well covered by the media.
But what hasn’t been reported is the lingering internal strife between higher-ups at the morgue and some employees.
Over the last few years at least four complaints – two federal lawsuits and two EEOC petitions – have been filed by morgue workers against Dr. Nancy Jones, the embattled medical examiner, and her agency.
The plaintiffs claim the work environment is hostile and, in some instances, racially charged.
Jones told us she’s been cracking down on incompetent employees, which has created bad blood and fueled some of the complaints.
No doubt the agency has had its share of troubles. Reports of theft, patronage and general stupidity have dogged the office for years.
For now, Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle’s office tells us there are no plans to remove Jones.
A different kind of ‘kicking back’ in Niles
Shortly after former Niles Mayor Nicholas Blase was released from federal custody last year – following a prison term for public corruption – two men showed up at his home in the north suburb. They were public works employees, and the purpose of their stopover was "garbage p/u," according to copies of time sheets we recently obtained.
But . . . what exactly were they picking up, and why did it take two guys an hour each of overtime to do whatever they were doing?
We’re still a little hazy on this, despite an explanation from Niles Village Manager George Van Geem, who relayed that the Niles workers went inside Blase’s home to pick up a recliner that Blase was donating to the village so employees would have a place to kick back on while on break.
Really? Overtime? A chair? From a private home?
"We’ve done it before for people whose name is not Blase," Van Geem insisted, estimating that the overtime collectively cost taxpayers about $90. "Bottom-line is, if we spend $90 and end up with something that benefits the village, I’m ok with that."
Reached on the phone, Blase chuckled. "You guys have better things to do than this," said the long-time former mayor, who was convicted of shaking down local businesses.
Snap shots . . .
Harwood Heights residents are divided over a recent decision by the village board to subsidize a new grocery store in town by virtually giving away a valuable piece of land as an incentive . . . Parents at Chicago’s Keller Elementary Gifted Magnet School are still demanding answers from CPS officials about alleged instances of an Evergreen Park family and other suburbanites lying about where they live to get their kids into the well-regarded city school . . . An alderman in politically turbulent and cash-strapped Country Club Hills is suggesting that, to save money, the city consider paying some firefighters only when they go on calls. Another idea: filing for bankruptcy.
This column, a new weekly feature called The Public Eye, was written and reported by the BGA's Patrick Rehkamp and Robert Herguth. They can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (312) 386-9201.