I-Team: 'Down Time' for city workers

July 21, 2010 (CHICAGO)

The story came to the I-Team from a pure-bred Chicagoan who has lived his whole life in Canaryville on the South Side, working for decades at a wire company, he says, and paying his taxes. He called the I-Team irate, describing how some city workers, who were supposed to be resurfacing his neighborhood streets, were doing nothing.

With that information, the I-Team went on a stake out in Canaryville, centered on the intersection of 42nd Street and Lowe Avenue. It was there, and along several adjacent blocks, that city employees had posted no-parking signs the last week of June.

"I thought they'd tear up the street, resurface it and be out in two or three days, like they put up on the signs," said Tom Millard, Canaryville resident. "It's been going on three weeks now."

Watching how many city workers it takes to change a light bulb is a Chicago tradition practiced by Millard for many of his 59 years in the Canaryville area. For the last 20 years, Millard and his family have been in their house on South Lowe.

At first, Millard says, he and his family were happy to see city Department of Transportation crews show up to repave the street.

"What have you seen these city crews doing?" investigative reporter Chuck Goudie asked.

"Virtually stand around, do nothing, walking back and forth. They did the minimal work," Millard said.

"In three and a half days, this crew completed the work they were assigned to do. We want to know if it took longer than it should have," said Brian Steele of the Chicago Dept. of Transportation.

City officials and Millard agree there was work done in late June, when the first city resurfacing team arrive to strip away old asphalt from about six blocks of neighborhood streets. However, it is what Millard says he has seen since then, in the past three weeks, that has him furious: city workers allegedly standing around, sitting around, walking around, talking on cell phones, snacking and reading the newspaper, everything except working, Millard says.

"Were there workers out there whom you saw do nothing the entire time they were there?" asked Goudie.

"Yes sir," said Millard. "Didn't do nothing. I saw one guy walk up and down the street on the cell phone with an ear piece in his ear talking on his cell phone for two or three hours. I never saw him do any work."

An I-Team surveillance crew recorded similar behavior by transportation department workers during several days staking out the site. Their routine seemed to be that one or two would sporadically work, while others stood or sat.

"In some cases, there are legit reasons for it. For example, the crew that you observed reported on their work sheet for the 14th of July that they took several breaks because of the heat. That was one of the days that heat was near 100 degrees. Sometimes there may be equipment problems. Sometimes they have to tow cars from the area in order to be able to do the work," Steele said.

Most of the workers left around lunchtime in a CDOT van and returned at 12:30 continuing the same routine until quitting time around 2:15.

"When you see things like that happen, how does that make you feel as a taxpayer?"

"Terrible because, me, this is the second, third year at my job without a raise," said Millard. "We used to get a yearly raise or a yearly bonus. We haven't got that because of the conditions with the country. Now, these guys just stand around."

"We want our crews working as hard as they can to complete projects as quickly as possible. It certainly doesn't seem as though that occurred here, and we want to know why," said Steele.

Department officials say their records show that crews were assigned to that location on only six days, and it is their work on those days that will be investigated. The city streets near Millard's home, and many others, remained in rehab limbo Wednesday night because the just-ended construction laborer's strike interrupted asphalt deliveries.

City officials say asphalt plants were firing up Wednesday, and they hope to accelerate the paving schedule.

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