March 2, 2012 11:59 AM
Despite X-rated Behavior, City Worker Keeps Job
City Clerk criticizes predecessor for not firing employee caught with porn; now she says she’s stuck with him.
By Patrick Rehkamp/BGA
Employee of the month he’s not.
Steven Wallace, a veteran worker at the Chicago city clerk’s office, was busted two years ago for allegedly keeping a collection of Playboy magazines on his desk, and images of pornography and other graphic sexual content on his work computer.
When confronted about this by the Chicago inspector general’s office – the in-house watchdog for city government – Wallace lied to investigators, according to sources interviewed by the Better Government Association, and city documents that quote a supervisor to whom Wallace allegedly confided.
In 2011, the OIG recommended that Wallace be fired, but the now-former city clerk, Miguel del Valle, instead gave him a one-month unpaid suspension, the BGA has learned.
And the current clerk, Susana Mendoza, continues to employ him at an annual salary of $73,000. (Wallace deals with graphics and printing at the office, which among other things handles city stickers, residential parking permits and dog licenses. He’s worked there since 1985. The agency has roughly 100 employees.)
Del Valle told the BGA Wallace’s slap on the wrist "was based on staff recommendations," though he conceded, "ultimately the clerk is responsible."
"He was an employee with no prior problems," del Valle said.
Mendoza, who took over the elected position last spring, said she wasn’t aware of all this baggage until the BGA reached out to her.
"I recently learned of the reprehensible actions of one of our employees," she said in a written statement. "These actions, the IG’s investigation and recommendation, as well as disciplinary decisions were done during City Clerk Miguel del Valle’s administration. Had I been City Clerk when this happened, I would have terminated the employee. Ultimately, these choices fall on the City Clerk to make and I strongly disagree with the former Clerk’s decision."
She consulted with attorneys with the city’s Law Department to see if she could discipline Wallace further but, according to Mendoza’s spokeswoman, their "response was no further action could be taken" because the suspension del Valle imposed "precludes Clerk Mendoza from imposing further discipline on the same charges."
Wallace, 50, didn’t seem happy when the BGA contacted him. "This is water under the bridge, I did what I was supposed to do," he said.
By the way, the one-month suspension probably didn’t jam up his finances too much. He used $10,000 in compensatory time to cover the time he was off, an OIG report indicated.
The OIG report also indicates that Wallace "uploaded and stored on his City-owned computer several sexually explicit and inappropriate photographs – photographs depicting a sexual act, photographs of the breasts and buttocks of unsuspecting women in public" and partially nude pictures of a custodian taken at the city clerk’s office.
(The personnel rules Wallace is accused of violating include "conduct unbecoming of a public employee" and using public property – his computer – inappropriately.)
The OIG report doesn’t explicitly address the financial implications of all this – if and how taxpayer resources were wasted – but certainly the breadth of the investigation alone would show that Wallace’s alleged actions were not only inappropriate, but costly to the public.
For what it’s worth, Wallace wasn’t the only person with ties to the city clerk’s office to come to our attention recently.
Ray Drish, chief of staff under disgraced former City Clerk James Laski, was forced out in 2000 amid a series of scandals, including allegations that city crews were picking up garbage at a banquet hall he ran. (In the proud tradition of the office, Laski ended up in prison on corruption charges.)
Drish, 51, is back on the public payroll – working for Illinois Secretary of State Jesse White as of last April, making $22,000 a year.
Reached on the phone, Drish insisted he was not clouted into the clout-heavy agency that issues driver’s licenses in Illinois.
"I applied for it like everyone else," Drish said. "I’m really grateful for what I got. . . . I’m out of politics."
This story was written and reported by BGA Senior Investigator Patrick Rehkamp. To contact him, email firstname.lastname@example.org or call (312) 386-9201.