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Monday, October 5, 2009

A Half Hour With Two Chicago Whistleblowers

I met Pat McDonough about a month ago. The best way to describe McDonough is by this Shakespeare quote.

Be not afraid of greatness: some are born great, some achieve greatness and some have greatness thrust upon them.

For McDonough, his greatness if you will was thrust upon him. I doubt Pat would call it greatness and he'd also want to admit that all things being equal, he might even take his earlier life. That said, Pat McDonough is one of a handful of whistle blowers that was instrumental in uncovering the Hired Truck scandal about five years. He told me that he acted as a pseudo deep throat to some of the biggest breaking stories on that scandal. For his trouble, he was targeted by a large part of Chicago's political structure. That included superiors and even his union. He is now square in the cross hairs of Mayor Daley.

Upon becoming a whistle blower, McDonough also became an activist. He started the web site Chicago Clout. This site tracks incidents of corruption in the city. The site was like most blogs, viewed somewhat sparingly, until a few of his friends did a song to "celebrate" the corrupt nature of the city. The group, affectionately known as the Clout Meisters, became a near instantaneous viral sensation and McDonough received publicity that has helped raise the profile of his site. From time to time, he and fellow whistle blowers put on a half hour television show that runs on CAN TV locally and gets posted on his site. Neither Pat nor his colleagues are professional broadasters, and when you view the video you won't mistake any of us for Bill O'Reilly. Still, Pat and his colleagues all share one thing, they were put in a position to report on Chicago corruption. They did, and for it, they were targeted. Now, they aren't merely plumbers, plumbing inspectors, and union laborers, but activists. Greatness if you will has been thrust upon them. None asked for it, but none was willing to look the other way when they came face to face with corruption.

I did a show with two of Pat's compatriots on Friday, John Swietczak and Michael McGann. Swietczak was also a whistleblower on the Hired Truck scandal, however, Swietczak has since been a whistle blower on numerous incidents of corruption. On some he takes credit and on others he remains anonymous. In fact, about a week prior to taping on Friday, Swietczak blew the whistle on exactly the sort of corruption that is likely common place throughout Chicago. While making his rounds as a plumbing inspector, Swietczak noticed that a truck doing resurfacing work was taking water from a city fire hydrant without a permit and without a device to prevent construction debris from contaminating Chicago's water system. Swietczak approached the truck and asked that the operator produce the proper permit. They didn't have one and instead got the owner of the trucking company on the phone. The owner, Michael Tadin, owns MAT Construction and MAT Construction was one of the biggest firms involved in the Hired Truck Scandal. According to Swietczak, when Tadin got on the phone, Tadin responded to the request as such.

The guy straight out tells me he's been doing this for 25 years, and he's never
bought any permits," Swietczak said, noting that contractors pay $13.16 per day
for hydrant use.

When Spielman called Tadin for comment, he remembered the conversation differently.

I never said that. I said this is the first time I've been checked for a
permit in 10 or 12 years

Whatever happpened, it's not in dispute that the truck was operating without a permit. What happened next was pure Chicago. Spielman was hurriedly gathering all details to finish the story and the story was unfolding as she was working on it. Keep in mind that not only was this truck using the city's water supply illegally but this company had already been implicated in a previous scandal. Normally, we'd expect the government to sever all ties with the company pending an investigation. That's not what happened here. Instead, in the matter of hours a permit was rushed and approved for MAT. In fact, it was rushed and approved all while Spielman was gathering evidence. Swietczak told me that normally such a process could take weeks. This took hours and Spielman added that to her story. For blowing the whistle on this corruption, Swietczak expects to be targeted and he said as much in the video.

Michael McGann is also a fellow plumbing inspector. In the next couple weeks, I expect to do his story in detail in the next couple weeks. Here it is in a nutshell. In October of 2007, he was called to De Diego Elementary School following a water main break. McGann found a series of violations that he felt were so serious that it was dangerous for the kids in the school to drink the water out of the water fountain. Rather than taking his concerns and REPORT seriously, superiors attempted to bury it. He complained to his union and to the Inspector General and later found that those complaints lead to retaliation. He has been the target of a series of retaliations since but worse than that, in his opinion, the structural problems with the school's plumbing hasn't been fixed and as such the kids' water continues to be at risk.

Pat is trying to send me the embed code for the video but in the meantime, please go to the link and watch the video of our three conversation on his site.


Here's the video.

1 comment:

Patrick McDonough said...

Thank you for the nice words. Chicago Clout would love to have you on the tv show on a regular basis. you are an engaging guest. Thank you for the nice words. I have been contacted by many people dueto your website. Patrick McDonough