Galena plumbing inspector: City fired him for enforcing building code vs. certain projects

By Dana Herra | Jun 29, 2015

A former city plumbing inspector has sued the city of Galena for $8 million, claiming he was fired for doing his job too well.

A former city plumbing inspector has sued the city of Galena, claiming he was fired for doing his job too well.

Michael J. Aldous filed a complaint in federal court in Chicago against the city of Galena, City Administrator Mark Moran and Mayor Terry Renner, alleging they violated his First Amendment rights, punished him for doing his job, inflicted emotional distress and retaliated against him as a whistleblower. He is asking for more than $5 million in compensatory damages and more than $3 million in punitive damages.

Aldous was hired in 2013 as the plumbing inspector and rental housing inspector, positions that had been vacant for some years in Galena, a historic community in northwest Illinois popular with tourists from the Chicago area and beyond.

Within a few months of beginning work, the lawsuit says, plumbing contractors and landlords in the city were complaining that they were being forced to redo work or had been issued citations for violations previously allowed to slide. The suit says Aldous repeatedly complained to Moran that other city staff were issuing plumbing permits without his review and without anyone checking to ensure the contractors were properly registered.

“The complaints by Plaintiff Aldous were unavailing, the system did not change, and Defendant Mark Moran merely commented that they needed to work with contractors,” the suit says.

It says Moran was “openly hostile” and told Aldous landlords and even other staff members were complaining that Aldous knew the building codes too well and enforced them too strictly. Aldous was terminated from both inspector positions in September 2014.

The suit claims the city’s building inspector told him in February 2015 he had been fired specifically because he would not go along with issuing a variance to a local veterinary clinic and because of the “brouhaha” he made over insisting washrooms in the city’s police department be compliant with the Americans with Disabilities Act.

Aldous first began noting problems with the veterinary clinic while it was still under construction in July 2013. According to the lawsuit, over the next eight months, he repeatedly warned the building’s owners, tradesmen working on the construction, and other city inspectors that in order to be up to code, the built-in oxygen system in the clinic had to be installed by a qualified and certified installer and had to be inspected by a certified third-party inspector.

In March 2014, when Aldous inspected the nearly complete clinic, he noted the oxygen system had not yet been inspected and again told the building owner to take care of it, the lawsuit says. He later issued a temporary certificate of occupancy, on the condition the inspection take place, and the business moved in to the building. Three months later, the city’s fire inspector noted the system had still not been inspected and had not been installed by a qualified installer, as required. The fire inspector proposed a variance on installer qualifications, which Aldous complained was insufficient and still would be in violation of code.

Three weeks after Aldous’ termination, the city issued the variance.

Around the same time, the city was renovating the Old City Hall used by the police department. Aldous claims the renovation plans were not submitted for his review before being let to bid, and he first learned of the renovation when a local contractor asked him why the specifications on the building’s washrooms were not ADA-compliant.

Aldous says the city engineer told the contractor to “bid the plan as is” and not worry about the federal ADA code. Over the next few months, the suit alleges, Aldous got into several heated discussions with other city officials over the need to make the washrooms compliant. He was allegedly asked to resign, and when he refused, he was terminated.

The lawsuit notes the Galena City Council in January 2015 voted to exceed the budget for the police department renovation project to make the washrooms ADA compliant.

Aldous is being represented by attorney John P. DeRose, of Hinsdale.

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