Public Transparency Stinks At Sanitary District – So Better Government Association Sues

Metropolitan Water Reclamation District officer allegedly makes racial remarks, boasts of drinking on the clock – while being recorded over a police radio. But agency won't turn over copy of recording, so BGA files lawsuit.

Contacts:
Matthew Topic (773) 368-8812
Robert Reed (312) 453-0631

CHICAGO—The mission of the Metropolitan Water Reclamation District is laudable: Treating sewage and alleviating flooding.

But the government agency's behavior is sometimes laughable.

In the most recent example, a reclamation district police officer accidentally keyed his radio while talking to another employee – and he not only allegedly made racially charged remarks, he bragged of a secret room where workers drink on the job. All the while, the conversation was being recorded over a police radio band.

We know about this because FOX 32 did a news story.

MWRD brass say they're handling things, but they won't turn over a copy of the recording, claiming disciplinary proceedings aren't done.

Sorry, but that's not how things work. State law – the Illinois Freedom of Information Act, or FOIA – requires that information be turned over upon request by the public, no matter how embarrassing.

So now the Better Government Association is taking the MWRD to court – with a lawsuit filed Feb. 19, 2015, in Cook County Circuit Court.

"If what we're hearing is true, the officer's behavior is deplorable, and so is the behavior of other water reclamation employees who are drinking and goofing off rather than doing their jobs," said BGA President and CEO Andy Shaw. "Drinking on the job and hiding when they're supposed to be guarding our critical infrastructure? Heads should roll."

"And refusing to turn over a copy of the recording, in clear violation of state law? MWRD leaders seem more interested in their public image than in answering to the people who pay their salaries."

Shaw noted that the water reclamation district may be a little-known agency, but it's a big-time bureaucracy, with a budget in excess of $1 billion, roughly 2,000 employees and an elected board of nine. Cook County property owners help fund the MWRD.

"Every local taxpayer should care about how this agency functions," Shaw added.

This is just the latest transparency-based complaint filed by the BGA, which views FOIA as an essential tool for the public to keep watch over government.

Click here to read other BGA legal actions.

The Better Government Association is a Chicago-based nonprofit, nonpartisan watchdog group that works for integrity, transparency and accountability in government by exposing corruption and inefficiency; identifying and advocating effective public policy; and engaging and mobilizing the public to achieve authentic and responsible reform.