City Snow Command boss avoids firing, gets hit with suspension
BY FRAN SPIELMAN City Hall Reporter /firstname.lastname@example.org May 9, 2011 9:14PM
City snow removal boss Bobby Richardson, shown in 2010, abused his post “on a daily basis.” | M. Spencer Green~AP
Updated: May 9, 2012 9:44AM
The $142,464-a-year deputy Streets and Sanitation commissioner who presides over Chicago’s Snow Command has been slapped with a 25-day suspension for allegedly using city employees to perform his personal errands on city time.
Inspector General Joe Ferguson had recommended that Managing Deputy Commissioner Bobby Richardson be fired for ordering his underlings to pick up and deliver his cigars, have his personal car washed and keeping the vehicle filled with gas.
The alleged abuses occurred “on a daily basis” over a period of years, wasting “hundreds of hours of city employee time for the personal benefit” of one boss, Ferguson concluded.
Instead, Streets and Sanitation Commissioner Tom Byrne reduced Richardson’s punishment to a 25-day suspension.
Byrne ordered suspensions ranging from three to ten days for three other employees accused of either chauffeuring co-workers to and from home or the Ogilvie Transportation Center and their work locations or of accepting the perk.
The commissioner also discontinued a so-called “shuttle program” that has long allowed designated city employees to park at a city facility in the Loop and be shuttled to City Hall by a city employee.
Asked Monday why he failed to follow the inspector general’s recommendation, Byrne said, “They’re pretty substantial suspensions. The deputy got 25 [days], two others got ten, and the foreman got three. That’s all got to do with progressive discipline and prior work performance. … We are fair across the board. Everybody gets a chance at progressive discipline. That’s managers and everybody else.”
In a written response to the inspector general’s report, Byrne argued that immediate termination “should be reserved for criminal conduct, serious threats to operations and/or safety or egregious administrative or ethical failings.”
While Ferguson cited the “vast scope” of Richardson’s misconduct, Byrne argued that the investigation actually documents “a more narrowly defined, although ill-conceived impropriety designed to make his life easier and even, in some instances, more productive.”
“Managing Deputy Commissioner Richardson’s operational expertise and strategic planning skills, his commitment to the job and his ability to perform effectively, especially in emergency situations, are unquestioned and invaluable” to the Department of Streets and Sanitation, Byrne wrote.
“When a snow program is initiated, he does not leave the command center until the program has successfully ended. Snow programs, as in the recent 21.2-inches of snow that fell in February, can last several days.”
It’s not the first time that Richardson has dodged a disciplinary bullet.
Last summer, a $43,656-a-year executive secretary who once ran Chicago’s garage demolition program was slapped with a 45-day suspension for ordering her cousin’s Bridgeport garage demolished at taxpayers expense to make way for a pool and backyard deck.
Christine Carpenter acknowledged that she forged a “garage survey form” when her cousin’s garage had never been inspected by the city. She also admitted that she moved her cousin’s garage ahead of more than 100 others awaiting demolition and went to the scene to personally order the concrete foundation removed.
At the time of the 2006 demolition, Carpenter worked for Richardson at the Bureau of Street Operations.
Ferguson also recommended a three-day suspension for Richardson for entrusting the garage demolition program to the unqualified Carpenter and for failing to exercise proper oversight over her.
But, Byrne overruled the recommendation, choosing instead to counsel Richardson.
Richardson is a 32-year veteran city employee who is a protégé of former Streets and Sanitation Commissioner Michael Picardi.
As Snow Command chief, Richardson was one of a handful of city employees responsible for the Blizzard of 2011 fiasco that left as many as 530 vehicles stuck for hours on Lake Shore Drive.
Three accidents in 28 minutes — followed by ramp closures caused by high winds, drifting snow and white-out conditions — kept the Drive closed for 34 hours before a cavalcade of tow trucks removed the vehicles.