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'Booze and Snooze' Scandal Rocks Plant

Friday, April 3, 2015

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The world's largest wastewater treatment facility has suspended at least nine workers after a plant security officer accidentally broadcast a slur- and obscenity-laced description of a secret room where employees drink and nap.

Denis Lawlor, of Chicago's Stickney Water Reclamation Plant, was giving a tour of the plant to a new officer in January when Lawlor apparently inadvertently keyed his radio to a channel that also was broadcast to—and recorded by—state police.

Fox 32 News Chicago screen grab

Denis Lawlor warned a rookie officer to restock any beer he took from the secret lounge.

The broadcast picked up 58 minutes of the officer's narration, triggering a major investigation by the Metropolitan Water Reclamation District of Greater Chicago. The recording, filled with obscenities and racial and sexual slurs, was later obtained and aired in part by a local Fox news affiliate.

'I'm Gonna Trust You're Not a ... Plant'

In the audio, Lawlor takes the new officer to a locked room. Before unlocking the room, Lawlor warns the rookie: "I'm gonna trust that you're not a f****** plant from some clout heavy mother-f****** who's here to front us out."

Inside is a lounge with a bathroom, couch, TV/DVD player, microwave and a refrigerator stocked with beer and Schnapps. Lawlor calls the air-conditioned room "the apartment" and identifies several employees, including engineers, who allegedly use the space to drink and sleep on the job.

Fox 32 News Chicago screen grab

"Everybody" on the midnight shift "is sleeping," and hiring at the water district is based entirely on political connections, said Lawlor, who was once fired from the Chicago police force.

Lawlor warns the rookie to replace whatever he drinks from the alcohol stash. Alcohol is explicitly prohibited on District property.

Several of the individuals identified by Lawlor confirmed his account, District officials said.

'Everybody Here is Sleeping'

On the tape, Lawlor explains that some of the plant's tradesmen use the room during the week, but that he stays there on overnight shifts, bringing in his own pillow and blanket.

"Nobody really gives a f***," he says. "Everybody here is sleeping. The engineers, everyone that's here on midnights, they're all f****** sleeping somewhere, too."

Fox Chicago reported that four other security officers and five tradesmen had been suspended since the investigation began, while a sixth tradesman "decided to retire." However, some of those initially suspended have returned to work, St. Pierre told the station.

Racial, Sexual Rants

Beyond the illegal drinking, Lawlor rants about women and black colleagues using slurs and brags about the overtime he makes. His base salary is "more than $74,000," Fox reported.

He also claims that hiring at the District is based entirely on political connections, saying, "[J]ust assume everyone here is here on a phone call. I mean, not just our department. Everybody."

Stickney WRP

The Stickney Water Reclamation Plant is the largest wastewater treatment facility in the world.

Lawlor was hired by the District in 2011, Fox reported. The former Chicago police officer was fired from the force several years earlier after he "shot off a couple of rounds" from his 9 mm automatic service revolver near a dorm at Northern Illinois University.

The water district has suspended Lawlor without pay and filed charges with its Civil Service Board seeking his termination, district spokeswoman Allison Fore said Thursday (April 2). Five employees were suspended for misconduct, Fore said.

The suspended employees waived their rights of appeal to the Civil Service Board.

About the District

The Stickney Water Reclamation Plant is the largest wastewater treatment facility in the world, the district reports. The plant serves 2.38 million people in a 260-square-mile area that includes Chicago and 43 suburbs.

The facility has a capacity of 1.2 billion gallons per day including the central part of Chicago and 43 suburban communities.

The district operates under a civil service system of employment that requires applicants to pass a civil service exam.

The district did not respond Thursday (April 2) to a request for more information.


Tagged categories: Health and safety; Laws and litigation; North America; Program/Project Management; Regulations; Wastewater Plants; Workers

Comment from Fred Wittenberg, (4/3/2015, 4:17 PM)

I'm a MWRD retiree, and this type of behavior on the part of these employees is disgusting and worthy of their dismissal.

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