CHICAGO (CBS) — CBS 2 has learned the son of Ald. Carrie Austin (34th) was recently suspended from the city job she got for him.
Does that sound familiar? It’s because it is the second time he has been suspended in the past 13 months.
This time, the incident was all caught on camera. CBS 2’s Tim McNicholas obtained the exclusive video.
Kenneth Austin is the Department of Streets and Sanitation superintendent for the 34th Ward. He oversees trash cleanup, street sweeping, and other services in the South Side neighborhoods – parts of Roseland, West Pullman, Morgan Park – where his mom is alderman.
Residents depend on him for city services, and he is supposed to deliver. He is not supposed to argue with residents who are unhappy with those city services for which out tax dollars pay. But he did.
“Well, if you don’t like it here, move to the other neighborhood,” Kenneth Austin is heard saying a Ring doorbell video from February. “When you have a complaint, and you telling me about what they’re getting in the other neighborhood, yes, move to the other neighborhood!”
We filed a public records request to get the video. That is also how we uncovered a disciplinary report about Kenneth Austin’s comments, which calls them “disparaging,” “inappropriate,” and “stereotyping.”
“You got people that do better in white folk neighborhoods, then they come in their own neighborhoods – just like the garbagemen,” Kenneth Austin says in the video. “They go to the white folk neighborhood, they pick up and run and get pieces of paper – but they look like this when they get in their own damn neighborhood.”
He goes on: “When you said, ‘Well, if you go in the Beverly neighborhood.’ Yes, the Beverly neighborhood is the white folk, and all white folk in Streets and Sanitation stay in the Beverly neighborhood. Anybody that tell me that, yes, I say, ‘Well, you move over there, then.’ ”
Kenneth’s mom, Carrie Austin is currently Chicago’s second-longest serving alderman — the former chair of the city’s powerful Budget Committee. As alderman, she succeeded her husband, Lemuel Austin, who died in 1994.
Like other aldermen, she handpicked her ward superintendent.
“I feel you. I feel you like a motherf***er – even with my mother being alderman,” Kenneth Austin says in the video.
But it wasn’t Ald. Austin who wrote up Kenneth. The city considers ward superintendents employees of the Department of Streets and Sanitation.
That department suspended Kenneth, citing the video.
But that’s not all. The report also docks Austin on the grounds that he “failed to return to work for seven consecutive workdays” in May.
“We call the alderman’s office. Nothing’s happening here,” resident Derrick White said in December 2020. “This is why we’re talking to you. We need help here.”
“It seemed like when we called the alderman’s office, there wasn’t a great deal of ownership with the issue,” Morgan Park landlord Francis Kelly told us at that time. “Basically, all our follow-ups, we would hear, ‘Well, we’d pass it on.’”
Kenneth Austin’s troubles with the city actually date back years.
Sources tell CBS 2 Kenneth Austin resigned from his Streets and Sanitation laborer job back in 2015 – after he got in a crash in a city vehicle and had another employee cover for him, because his license was suspended.
Just a year later, his mom brought him on as her assistant, before moving him to ward superintendent in 2017 – where he now earns $91,000 in taxpayer dollars per year.
“It just shows the risk of hiring family members,” said David Greising, president and chief executive officer of the Better Government Association. “It’s impossible to be objective when you have somebody whom you’re related to working for you. Their performance reviews, firing decisions, other accountability measures are tough to enforce when that person is your kin.”
Despite his demeanor in that Ring doorbell video, Kenneth Austin was less talkative when CBS 2’s McNicholas confronted him earlier this week.
“Kenneth can you tell me, why did you take seven unscheduled days off in May?” McNicholas asked him without getting an answer.
Kenneth Austin’s suspension is now over, so we tracked him down at dawn as he showed up for work.
“Why did you tell that woman in February to move to another neighborhood?” McNicholas asked him.
Since he gave no answers, we tried to ask his mom how she is handling the superintendent problems in her ward. When McNicholas came to Ald. Austin’s office, a staffer said she was not available.
The taxpayers of the 34th Ward have plenty of questions too.
We’re happy to confirm that on Wednesday, Kenneth Austin at least showed up for work.
The Department of Streets and Sanitation said they do not comment on personnel matters.
Region: Chicago,Politics,City: Chicago
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November 4, 2021 at 11:18PM