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Emanuel: "Zero Tolerance" for Fire Department Corruption, Firings Not Enough

By Chuck Sudo in News on Aug 4, 2011 1:40PM

2010_11_9_cfd.jpg Yesterday we wondered if the city would heed the advice of Inspector General Joseph Ferguson and fire 54 firefighters assigned to the Fire Department's scandal plagued Fire Prevention Bureau for padding mileage reports, even after they were given phones with GPS capability.

Mayor Emanuel threw a cold glass of reality onto Ferguson's suggestion yesterday, saying that heeding Ferguson's recommendation won't solve the issue of corruption in the Fire Prevention Bureau.

“It’s clear that this has a history, meaning it’s repetitive. I feel—reading what I read today—like it’s Ground Hog Day. It’s not just a personnel issue. It’s a cultural issue. And I’ve directed [Fire] Commissioner Hoff to deal with it—roots and all,” Emanuel said.

Emanuel also pointed toward the domino effect of the grievance process that would kick in if he followed through on Ferguson's recommendation. The mayor noted that the process, written into the firefighters union's contract with the city, could wind up costing taxpayers more than the $100,000 the firefighters collected in 2009 on the inflated mileage reports. And there may not be a guarantee that all of them would be terminated.

Emanuel stressed instead the culture that lead to this be rooted out and called for a "zero tolerance" policy. "I’ve talked to the commissioner about dealing with this systemically, culturally and then, if we need to, on a personnel basis," he said.

Commissioner Hoff has already demoted Fire Prevention Bureau deputy commissioner Nick Russell and Russell's next-in-command, Sal Marquez, for allowing the relaxed culture that led to the mileage report scandal. Chicago Firefighters Union Local president Tom Ryan attacked Ferguson's recommendation that the duties of the Fire Prevention Bureau be rolled over to the Buildings Department, saying doing so would put firefighters at risk when responding to fires.