Human error suspected in CWLP mishap

Mayor, aldermen mostly mum

Human error may have contributed to a malfunction at a City Water, Light and Power generator in November that resulted in a fire and stands to cost the city at least $1 million.

The failure was the subject of discussion during a recent city council executive session. “We were definitely told that there were some concerns that these things could have been prevented, that the failure at (generating unit) 33 could have been prevented by proper fulfillment of duties and jobs,” Ward 2 Ald. Shawn Gregory said.

Gregory and other aldermen declined to discuss specifics of any disciplinary action taken against any CWLP employee as a result of the mishap. “I don’t believe right now that I’m at liberty to say,” Gregory answered when asked about disciplinary measures. “That’s a personnel matter.”
click to enlarge Repairs estimated at $5 million.
Repairs estimated at $5 million.

Ward 8 Ald. Erin Conley gave much the same answer. “Have you talked to CWLP?” she answered when queried about the mishap.

“I do not believe that we are allowed to discuss personnel issues,” answered Ward 6 Ald. Kristen DiCenso. “I can’t really comment on that. We did have an executive session about this. As a rule, we’re not allowed to discuss personnel issues.”

“Quire frankly this is one of these situations, unfortunately, it’s one of those personnel issues that’s going through the process, and we’ve been told to refer questions to corporation counsel,” said Ward 9 Ald. Jim Donelan.

“I know they had an executive session,” said Ward 10 Ald. Ralph Hanauer. “Unfortunately, I left the meeting early – I had another event. We can’t comment on that, anyway.”

“I really can’t talk about personnel matters,” said Ward 3 Ald. Doris Turner. “I don’t think it’s appropriate. There were some discussions about it. To get an extremely, extremely accurate depiction of anything that happened, I would suggest you talk to either the mayor or CWLP management.”

Amber Sabin, CWLP spokeswoman, said she didn’t have details about the mishap in November, which Doug Brown, chief utility engineer, then attributed to a battery failure.

“It was a battery charger,” Sabin said today. “I know there was proposed discipline. I don’t know the status of that.”

The city expects CWLP’s insurer to pay costs in excess of $1 million, the city’s deductible. The total cost of repairs has been pegged at $5 million.

Mayor Jim Langfelder said he didn’t have details on the incident’s cause.

“Let me get the report – I’m sure there’s a report,” the mayor said. “There’s more detail than I would be able to explain, as far as that goes.”

Illinois Times has filed a request for documents surrounding the matter, including any disciplinary records. Don Craven, who several times has represented the paper in lawsuits filed to obtain public records, noted that personnel records, under state law, do not enjoy blanket exemption from disclosure.

“The city has always been required to release the investigation and the factual basis for any action taken against an employee,” Craven said. “There’s no absolute ban on anyone saying anything.”

Courts several times have ruled that employee disciplinary records are public under the state Freedom of Information Act, which states “The disclosure of information that bears on the public duties of public employees and officials shall not be considered an invasion of personal privacy.”

Sabin confirmed that the city lately has been buying its power from the grid rather than generating electricity. Both business interests and environmentalists have raised concerns about the cleanliness and cost-effectiveness of generating electricity instead of buying power from the grid, but city officials have said jobs that would be lost from scaling back CWLP operations are a concern.

“We’ve just got to keep these units up and running,” Hanauer said.

Contact Bruce Rushton at

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