Tuesday, June 05, 2012
Chicago Inspector General Joseph Ferguson rips arbitrator Edwin Benn in mostly black firefighters discipline case
Chicago's internal watchdog on Monday defended his recommendation to fire dozens of firefighters who padded mileage reports and called an arbitrator's ruling to soften penalties in the case "patent nonsense."
Last year, Inspector General Joseph Ferguson recommended firing 54 firefighters in the Fire Prevention Bureau that his office determined had falsified their mileage reimbursements to the tune of $100,000 in 2009. Then-fire Commissioner Robert Hoff decided instead to issue lengthy unpaid suspensions to most firefighters but fired four of them.
The arbitrator, Edwin Benn, reversed the firings last week, ruling that the four instead should be suspended without pay for 40 days. He also ruled that most of the other firefighters have their 30- to 60-day suspensions reduced to 20 to 40 days.
Benn found that while firefighters and supervisors violated city rules, they engaged in conduct that had been "almost a work rule," condoned within the department for decades.
"The idea that stealing, fraudulent falsification of official records — and lying — is acceptable because everyone else is doing it is patent nonsense. Any child knows better," Ferguson wrote in response. "These firefighters did not engage in conduct that unknowingly brought them in technical violation of some obscure and misunderstood city rule. Rather, they admitted to routinely and systematically lying in order to steal money from the city — and, ultimately, from Chicago taxpayers."
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