Alderman calls for hearings after controversial photo tied to water department

WGN Investigates
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CHICAGO -- There are new claims of racially tinged conduct at the Chicago Water Department.

The city agency has been flooded with controversy since an investigation found water department workers engaged in racist and sexist talk on city time.

Now, WGN Investigates has uncovered a new photo that some say adds fuel to the fire.

The photo depicts a small piece of rope hanging from a Chicago Water Department truck and it’s tied like a noose.

“I see a noose that's reminiscent of the South, of the hangings of African-Americans,” said Ald. David Moore, 17th Ward.

Water department bosses saw something else.  After a one day investigation that included new water commissioner Randy Conner, who is African-American, the city sided with the truck driver.  He said it was a rope used to hold his pens.

“The employee used the string for hanging pens while on the road,” said water department spokesperson Megan Vidis. “He personally apologized to his coworkers when he learned that some had taken offense.”

Alderman Moore says an apology isn’t enough.  He calls the rope the last straw.  Earlier this year, Chicago inspector general Joe Ferguson revealed a series of racist and sexist emails sent between several high ranking water department staffers. One email sent around featured the subject line: “Chicago Safari Tickets” and then proceeded to describe shootings over the July 4th weekend in predominately black neighborhoods. The email said, "You`ll see a lot of animals in their natural habitat.”

The workers who circulated the emails were fired and Mayor Emanuel forced out the water commissioner.  However, Alderman Moore says he's heard from dozens of employees who still feel discriminated against.

"They're saying there's still a racist culture. Situations where people aren't getting promoted because of color or not getting overtime."

Alderman Moore questions what happened to zero tolerance?

"Whoever put that noose up there could be gone right now. It wouldn't be well, we smacked him on the hand, gave him the chance to apologize because he said it was hanging pens. You know what? Don't spit in my face and tell me it's raining."

Seven current and former water department workers filed a federal lawsuit this summer claiming a racist culture exists in the water department. The alderman plans a news conference at City Hall Wednesday morning in which he will call for city council hearings on the water department’s culture and allegations black workers are being discriminated against.

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