CHICAGO — Thomas O’Connor is back at work on the public payroll, despite being fired from his post at the City of Chicago’s Department of Fleet Management.
O’Connor was terminated in 2008 after he crashed his city leased car while drunk and attempted to cover it up.
A joint investigation by FOX Chicago News and the Better Government Association discovered that O’Connor’s actions did not prevent him from landing another well-paying job. Less than three months after his termination from the city, O’Connnor was hired by the Chicago Park District as Deputy Director of Facility Management. He is currently paid more than $100,000 a year.
The crash and cover-up happened in 2006 while O’Connor was a high-ranking supervisor at Fleet Management.
Orland Park Police records show O’Connor was driving his city issued, shared-lease vehicle southbound on LaGrange Road after a golf outing.
Witnesses said the car swerved back and forth before it struck a pair of road signs in the median. According to the police report, O’Connor was so drunk he could not stand on his own.
Records show O’Connor was charged and convicted of DUI after refusing to blow a breath alcohol test.
But O’Connor never reported the accident or his arrest to his bosses at the city, as required by the city’s ethics ordinance. Instead, he parked the car in his driveway and got rides to work from other people.
Acting on a tip, the City of Chicago’s Inspector General began investigating the accident and documented the car was not being used.
The Inspector General’s report estimates the car was parked for nearly a year, while the city paid $5800 to lease the vehicle.
The Inspector General recommended O’Connor be fired, and in October, 2008, he lost his taxpayer-supported job.
But not for long. O’Connor applied for and got the job with the Park District in January, 2009.
Superintendent Tim Mitchell said O’Connor was the best qualified of six candidates who applied, and the accident and cover-up were not held against him.
“I have a problem with people drinking and driving, but I can’t take that into consideration when it was not park of Park District employment,” Mitchell said. “He has qualifications of 30 years experience, he’s done an outstanding job.”
Andy Shaw of the Better Government Association said Mitchell’s decision to hire someone fired from another city job shows the power of clout in Chicago government.
“The message here is there’s no consequence for misbehavior,” Shaw said. “You can drive while drunk and crack up a public vehicle, and lie and coverup and get fired, and then pop back up on another public payroll because you’re politically connected, and that’s wrong.”
O’Connor was placed on the City of Chicago’s “do not rehire” list, but for some reason, City Hall has refused to share that list with other public bodies like the Park District.
Chicago Inspector General Joe Ferguson would not talk specifically about O’Connor’s case, but said it is a fairy tale to believe the City and Park District are two entirely separate agencies.
“You ask Mr. Mitchell… who appointed him, and the answer is the Mayor of Chicago,” Ferguson said. “The Mayor of Chicago is the person who’s responsible for maintaining this ‘do not hire’ list. Same person on either side. Seems like we should be able to get something done.”
Ferguson wants a shared agreement between all local government agencies not to hire employees fired for cause by any government body.
Mitchell said a Park District panel screened the candidates for the job and O’Connor was deemed the best candidate. Mitchell said he could have vetoed the pick, but nearly always goes along with those recommendations.
Mitchell said he knows O’Connor and they worked together at another city agency in the past.