Tag Archives: Juan Ochoa John Harris

ROUNDUP: Lollygagging, Finagling and Justifying

The Metropolitan Water Reclamation District of Greater Chicago is the governmental agency responsible for processing human waste.

The audit did not confirm/deny dashboard decorations in MWRD vehicles (Jimmy_Joe/Flickr)

But the organization also must worry about another kind of waste: lollygagging employees.

With that in mind, the district installed GPS devices on a number of its vehicles, meaning bosses could, in theory, track workers electronically to make sure they’re in the right spots and not goofing off.

An internal audit released to the district board this May portrayed a GPS program in disarray, which begs the question: Is the MWRD wasting time and taxpayers’ money to measure wasted time and taxpayers’ money?

“Many of the GPS units have not been installed on the vehicles,” according to the audit. “For those vehicles that do have the devices, there is no evidence that the tracking reports are reviewed.”

In another internal document, a district staffer countered the audit by claiming GPS reports are reviewed, but acknowledged shortcomings.

One part of the agency, for instance, has 70 “active” vehicles, according to the document. Of those, “47 vehicles have had GPS units installed and only 28 GPS units are currently working, some intermittently.”

By the way, the GPS units on the district’s two patrol boats also “work intermittently.”

The gizmos each cost roughly $650.

The district’s executive director, Richard Lanyon, told the BGA that his people are working to resolve problems.

So Rod Blagojevich is being retried.

There’s been a fair amount of talk about the cost of another trial, and the toll it will take on the former governor and his family. But what about the toll on the witnesses, officials and other people who are waiting to move on with their lives and/or prison terms?

People such as John Harris, Blago’s former right-hand man who was charged in the corruption case, and then agreed to flip.

McCormick Place (Rob Jacob/Flickr)

Harris came to mind recently, not so much in connection with our state’s former Elvis-in-Chief, but in relation to McCormick Place, which is run by the public agency known as McPier.

When the Blago team was still in power, the word from inside sources was that Harris called a lot of the shots at McPier — maybe even more than then-CEO Juan Ochoa.

This raised legitimate questions about why certain contracts were awarded and why certain folks were hired or promoted. For example, in 2008 McPier awarded a janitorial contract to a company run by one of Blago’s fundraisers, even though the runner-up bid was $30 million cheaper.

We filed a Freedom of Information Act request for copies of emails between Harris and Ochoa.

Turns out there were two — at least that could be found and involved official, government-issued email accounts. The emails are brief — even terse — which was Harris’s way when he worked for the Daley administration as budget chief and airport czar.

“Fax me the briefing paper you showed to Lori,” Harris wrote to Ochoa on Oct. 31, 2007.

“Update?” Harris inquired in an email to Ochoa a few months before. It was entitled “Pipefitters.”

What does this all mean? Don’t know. Harris’s attorneys declined to comment. Ochoa (who left McPier earlier this year) could not be reached. One thing is clear: many questions remain.

If you want to chat about McPier — past, present or future — please reach out.

When a child denies sneaking candy, and you later find out he’d scarfed six Snickers bars, trust might be hard to come by in future interactions.


A comparable scenario went down in the 1990s, when the Daley administration denied there were secret plans to expand O’Hare’s runways.

Such an expansion would further slam the area with noise and air pollution — homes might be razed, too — so nearby suburbanites were vocally opposed to the expansion, hypothetical or otherwise.

It turned out that Mayor Daley’s people were indeed secretly planning to expand O’Hare, and the project is now far along in its construction, whether neighbors like it or not (incidentally, John Harris ran O’Hare before he jumped ship to state government.)

These days opposition to the O’Hare expansion is more splintered and less vocal in suburban communities — the feeling by many is, well, the fight is lost. But there still are plenty of folks with beefs about airplane noise, in part because of reconfigured flight patterns.

As Daley’s legacy is debated, this chapter should be recalled. He should be viewed in part through this prism, not necessarily on the merits of expansion, but on how it came to be.

The BGA recently wrote an article in the Sun-Times about religious leaders going to bat in court for crooked politicians, including former Chicago Ald. Ed Vrdolyak.

Among those to write a letter on his behalf to the judge was Sister Mary Paul McCaughey, superintendent of schools for the Archdiocese of Chicago.

“Please let Ed Vrdolyak’s admission mean something in a world of denial,” wrote McCaughey.

We asked her about this, but didn’t have the space to include her e-mail response in the Sun-Times piece. So, we’re sharing part of it here. It’s worth noting that McCaughey said she has no plans to pen another letter for Vrdolyak, as his resentencing hearing approaches.

“A friend of his family asked me to write [the initial letter] and I wrote in the context of a school administrator who knew his son’s family. I wrote because he plead guilty, because admission of guilt serves the public good, just as his actions did not. As you saw from the short memo, my words were more about the impact on his family (especially his then college frosh granddaughter whom I did know and respect) than about him. The letter did not directly reference his sentencing, but asked for an acknowledgment of his accepting responsibility for his actions which hurt his family.”

“No, I will not write again, as I assume re-sentencing is based on something more and it has been over two years since I have had any personal contact with the persons involved.”

Please keep visiting the BGA’s website, and this blog, because we have a number of investigations about to pop with various media partners.

This blog entry was reported and written by Robert Herguth, Pat Rehkamp and Joel Ebert. Contact us with tips, suggestions and complaints at (312) 821-9030, or at rherguth@bettergov.org.


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