While investigating alleged misuse of government emails by officials to sell firearms, Chicago’s inspector general found something else entirely — a trove of emails by employees of the city’s water department that contained racist and sexist language.
According to a report in the Chicago Sun-Times, Inspector General Joe Ferguson discovered the emails while investigating Paul Hansen, a water management superintendent who allegedly used his city email to sell guns. The emails themselves were not sent by Hansen, but their discovery did lead to Mayor Rahm Emmanuel firing Water Management Commissioner Barrett Murphy and the resignations of two other ranking water department officials embroiled in the scandal.
“We were made aware from an IG report on one particular employee. But in that process, it exposed a culture in the Water Department and in the workplace that, in my view, does not represent what the city’s values are,” Mayor Emmanuel said in a statement to the Sun-Times. “Barrett agreed that there should be a re-set button hit as it related to the culture.”
The Sun-Times reported that Barrett himself did not send the emails, but was the recipient of emails sent by an employee who worked under him, and his failure to discipline that person resulted in his firing.
While the emails discovered in the gun sales investigation resulted in a department shake-up, they reportedly weren’t the first of their kind in Chicago’s water department.
According to sources who spoke to the Sun-Times, there had been emails circulated within the department “include racist references to now-former President Barack Obama, perverse comments about women and gay people and someone distributing an image of an African-American deputy commissioner in charge of water distribution that depicted him with a gorilla face.”