Open mic delivers priceless audio sample of Chicago area government culture – WP Original
“Nobody here really gives a fuck.”
By: Mark Glennon*
If you’re not from around Chicago, get ready for a perfect audio lesson on what we’re dealing with here, tough language and all. You locals will laugh and cry at what’s too familiar.
Denis Lawlor is a security officer at a the water reclamation plant in southwest suburban Stickney. He accidentally left the microphone open on his radio as he showed the ropes to a new employee, and the conversation was recorded. It’s a perfect depiction of the cultural problem at the root of what’s wrong in Chicago area government at many levels.
“Nobody here really gives a fuck. Everybody here is sleeping. The engineers, everyone that’s here on midnights. They are all fucking sleeping somewhere.”
Lawlor showed the new employee a secret room in the plant with private keys and booze, “the Apartment.” they called it, where workers slept, watched TV or goofed off, all on work hours. It was not just for night shift workers. The room was used by daytime workers, Lawlor says, and it’s not limited to use of the room.
“Tradesman use it during the day…. every fucking shithead who is a laborer.” Another employee likes “sitting in her fucking car, sleeping in the car, reading magazines, not in the shack like she would supposed to be.” Lawlor brags about going to his son’s game while on his shift.
You’ll be comforted to know that the mission of the Metropolitan Water Reclamation District, where Lawlor works, includes water safety. Its site says, “We ensure your health and safety. Lake Michigan, the region’s primary drinking water supply…We at MWRD safeguard it.”
He earns over $100,000 per year, including overtime, he says on the tape. And of course he will be eligible for a pension. MWRD’s pension, no surprise, is underfunded by some $500 million, which taxpayers are on the hook for.
Lawlor explains repeatedly how this can happen: “Everybody here is on a phone call” — his phrase for clout. He also uses “clout” as the name for the folks downtown who protect slackers.
Listen for yourself through the links here. The recording was originally reported by the local Fox channel but MWRD wouldn’t give it up, so the Better Government Association sued, got it and published it. Kudos to both of them.
We usually write about numbers and budgets, but this is a reminder that Chicago area fiscal problems are ultimately a cultural disease. Too many people around here grew up assuming that this is how stuff works. To get ahead in life, you use phone calls and clout to maneuver into the least work for the most money. The Lawlors probably even think they are swell guys, as the BGA pointed out, by sharing that know-how with new workers and not ratting. “I’m a thinker, not a stinker,” he says on the tape.
Saddest of all, while the Lawlors are screwing off, plenty of real public servants are working late into the night, many underpaid. Public defenders and prosecutors, teachers struggling in broke schools, honest cops getting shot at, and and many more who “ask not,” as JFK put it. Don’t lump them in with the Lawlors.
It’s Lawlor’s culture, more than anything, that must be eradicated. Yes, eradicated.
*Mark Glennon is founder of WirePoints. Opinions expressed are his own.