Obama General Assembly

President Barack Obama shakes hands state Rep. David Reis, R-Willow Hill, before his speech in the state Capitol in February 2016. To the right of Reis are state Reps. John Cavaletto, R-Salem, and Bill Mitchell, R-Forsyth.

CHICAGO — A Chicago water department supervisor was suspended for failing to report offensive emails including one that suggested then-President Barack Obama being bid on at a Southern slave auction, according to the city inspector general's final report summarizing its investigation into racist and sexist emails shared among workers.

Inspector General Joseph Ferguson recommended three additional Department of Water Management employees be disciplined for their roles in the email scandal. It led to resignations of much of its leadership and vows from Mayor Rahm Emanuel's office to combat harassment and discrimination in what critics saw as a racist and misogynistic department.

In total, Ferguson has now recommended that seven water department employees be disciplined for their actions in sharing or failing to report racist and sexist emails, which circulated among city employees for at least five years, according to a quarterly report released by his office Monday. The report doesn't identify the workers or supervisors.

Offensive jokes about Obama, the nation's first black president, periodically were shared among department employees, including a newly revealed email with the subject line "Obama Angry with Texas!!"

According to Ferguson's report, the email states in part: "Obama will be making no more public speeches in Texas... He claims every time he gets up on stage to make a speech, some South Texas cotton farmers start bidding on him."

Another email had the subject line "Black NASCAR drivers??" It purported to list reasons "why there are no black NASCAR drivers," according to the report. They included: "Pistol won't stay under front seat," "Engine noise drowns out the rap music," "They keep trying to carjack Dale Earnhardt Jr."

Yet another newly revealed email took aim at the Black Lives Matter movement, according to the report. "I really need to get out in the woods again if not to just be with the critters, but also to eradicate all the BLM idiots and all the bull s_from the idiots and criminals that back these....I'll stop....," it read.

Ferguson reported that those emails, and others, were shared with a supervisor, who was required under city policy to report it. He found no evidence, however, that the supervisor ever shared the emails or responded to them.

The water department suspended the supervisor for five days.

Ferguson also investigated the conduct of another supervisor, who allegedly failed to report racist email and who, "on multiple occasions, responded affirmatively to racist and offensive emails."

According to Ferguson, the supervisor received an email from a city employee in which the employee referenced traveling through two towns in North Carolina and Tennessee. The employee wrote: "Google both of them and I guarantee you can't find a negro!" Soon afterward, the employee sent another email stating, "or a taco bender for that matter."

The supervisor, according to the report, responded: "god love you, you have found paradise you lucky mutha."

Ferguson recommended that the supervisor be fired and placed on the city's do-not-rehire list. The water department agreed, and the supervisor has appealed the ruling.

In another instance, Ferguson recommended that a rank-and-file worker be disciplined for using city email to repeatedly refer to a black supervisor by a "disparaging nickname" and for engaging in "sexual banter" in emails. The worker resigned before being disciplined and has been placed on the do-not-hire list.

A city spokeswoman on Monday reiterated the water department's "zero-tolerance policy for racism, sexism, homophobia or religious discrimination of any kind."

Megan Vidis said that department Commissioner Randy Conner, installed by Emanuel to clean up the department, "took appropriate disciplinary actions in each instance, which included suspensions and terminations. Any reports of inappropriate actions continue to be taken very seriously, investigated immediately and dealt with regardless of job title."

The inspector general's latest quarterly report sums up his monthslong investigation of the use of city email to "transmit racist, bigoted and misogynistic emails, which included offensive purported jokes, racial slurs and sexually explicit photos." Ferguson's probe began in late 2016, when his office started looking into the possibility of gun deals being conducted through a city email account.

That effort led to the seizure of former water department District Superintendent Paul Hansen's computer. After that, the investigation homed in on racist, sexist, homophobic and anti-Islamic emails. Hansen, the son of former 44th Ward Ald. Bernie Hansen, also resigned.

Overall, Ferguson investigated seven workers, six supervisors and one rank-and-file worker. He recommended that five be fired and one suspended. Another resigned during the investigation. That's on top of the resignations of former department leader Barrett Murphy and managing deputy commissioner William Bresnahan.

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jreidy@herald-review.com | (217) 421-6973


Digital Editor

Digital editor for Lee Enterprises Central Illinois.

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