CITY HALL — Thirteen city employees have been disciplined for their role in a scheme that blocked off a street near the United Center so their friends and relatives could park for free during Bulls and Blackhawks games, Inspector General Joseph Ferguson said.
Inspectors working for the city's watchdog staked out 16 games at the United Center from April 2015 to February 2016 — including nine Blackhawks playoff games — and witnessed employees of the Office of Emergency Management allowing 62 cars to park for free on the west side of Wood Street between Madison Street and Warren Boulevard, Ferguson said in his quarterly report released Monday.
As part of his office's investigation, Ferguson said he developed evidence that similar schemes have taken place "elsewhere in the city, including at other major venues, and involved other city departments," according to his report.
The street improperly blocked off by employees of the city's Office of Emergency Management and Communications near the United Center for free parking is reserved for members of the news media covering games at the Near West Side stadium, where parking is always at a premium, according to the report.
Sometimes using plastic cones, employees blocked southbound access to Wood from Warren, directing members of the public to park elsewhere as part of the effort that broke city rules prohibiting "supervisors from directing other city employees to perform services for unauthorized purposes or accepting the benefits of such performance and giving preferential treatment in the course of employment to any person."
None of the employees involved in the scheme were identified by Ferguson.
The emergency management supervisor "primarily responsible" for the scheme retired shortly after being contacted by Ferguson's office about it, according to Ferguson's report. That employee's record notes the resignation came "resigned under inquiry."
Ferguson recommended that another manager in the emergency management department be fired after that employee "denied knowledge of any preferred parking arrangement despite multiple [emergency management] employees stating the employee was aware of the parking arrangement and personally arranged for individuals to park on Wood between Madison and Warren."
"Emails also confirm the management-level employee's knowledge and participation in the parking scheme," according to the report.
However, emergency management officials decided not to fire that employee, instead handing out a 30-day suspension, with department leaders telling Ferguson they were "not fully convinced that [the employee] set out to deliberately mislead" the inspector general's office.
Four other employees whom Ferguson had recommended be terminated for lying to investigators received 14-day suspensions, according to the report.
An employee in the Department of Streets and Sanitation who took advantage of the free parking also received a 14-day suspension, according to the report.
Three emergency management employees were suspended for 10 days, two employees were suspended for seven days and one employee was suspended for five days.
In response to Ferguson's report, emergency management officials vowed to "eradicate the practice of providing preferred parking" and develop ethics training for employees of the Traffic Management Authority while ordering leaders of all city departments the practice was prohibited, according to the report.
Read the full report here: