Ald. Gardiner spent city funds on personal electronics, Willie Wilson, lavish bonuses, and his “Angels”

In part one of our analysis of Alderman Jim Gardiner’s expenditures from the city’s aldermanic expense account we detailed $20,000 in taxpayer funds spent on vanity projects, including: a sign to display his name in lights, branded apparel, and printed materials that are very close to, if not over, the line on what constitutes campaign materials or advertisements. Here in part two, we will review expenditures that raise additional questions about Gardiner’s judgement in spending during a budget crisis and a pandemic, and what oversight, if any, the Comptroller is conducting.

We’ve reviewed every expense report from the 45th Ward office from May 20, 2019 through December 31, 2020 — over two hundred reports and associated receipts obtained from the Department of Finance under the Freedom of Information Act.

Electronics for a Department of Streets & Sanitation employee ($1200)

The prices paid in some cases are 50% below list, possibly a result of a liquidation sale at the Office Depot in Harwood Heights where most of these purchases were made.

Most of these purchases were characterized as “office supplies” on Sikanich’s expense report. It’s unclear for what official ward business the Skullcandy Earbuds are used. These were listed on Sikanich’s report as “other supplemental services”.

The Department of Assets, Information and Systems (AIS) has confirmed they have no knowledge or record of these city assets. Does anyone in the City know where these assets are, if they are in fact used for city work, or who is using them? At this time no one has been able to answer this question.

Capital Improvements ($2,800)

According to the City’s policy governing the Aldermanic expense account, in no event can any city funds be used for “Capital improvements or other improvements to leased or rented property, which are permanently affixed or attached to the leased or rented property and considered to be a fixture to the property.”

It is unclear how a fireplace, music speakers, or a camera stabilizer help to provide services to the ward. It’s also not clear how the city ensures that Gardiner or his staff are not using the Premium Business Membership at Staples for personal purchases.

Supplies to promote Willie Wilson and “Gardiner Angels” ($4,600)

Gardiner’s bagged masks and “construction notice” strewn about building lobby

On April 28 2020, Willie Wilson donated one million masks to the city, giving 20,000 masks to each Alderman to distribute as they saw fit. Alderman Gardiner chose to distribute the majority of these masks to residents door-to-door, leaving plastic baggies on doors, mailboxes, and in lobbies, which contained two single-use disposable masks, prominently displaying both Alderman Gardiner’s and Willie Wilson’s names on the label.

Wilson had previously donated $2,000 to Gardiner’s campaign and at the time was a candidate for U.S. Senate.

Photo courtesy Ald. Gardiner: A box of masks in his office, individually bagged and labeled for distribution

Gardiner expensed or sought to expense all of the supplies for this project from his city budget. It seems very likely most of the expenses below would run afoul of city rules if the Comptroller had been informed of the intended purpose, given the city denied some of them. This included:

  • On April 29, Gardiner’s office attempted to expense 7,000 Ziploc bags ($143) from Sam’s Club. Reimbursement for this purchase was denied by the Comptroller, citing “bags for face masks, not allowable”
  • On April 30, Gardiner’s office expensed $244 for the purchase of 7,000 2x4" laser labels, exactly what is pictured in his photos. The Comptroller asked no questions about the intended purpose, which was clearly also to distribute face masks in the same quantity as the bags.
  • On May 8, Gardiner’s office expended an additional $164 for another 4,500 2x4" laser labels. Again, no questions asked.
  • On May 13, Gardiner’s office had to purchase new printer toner, expensing $450. NOTE: The office has a monthly contract with a leased Canon multi-function printer for which they pay a monthly fee plus metered usage of paper/toner. This was toner for a separate, unmanaged printer.
  • On the metered Canon printer, print usage spiked from a range of 4,000 to 7,000 printouts per three-month cycle to 33,775 in the June-August cycle at a cost to taxpayers of $399. This coincides with a spike in hand delivered material including the masks and the Gardiner Angel’s flyers.
  • September 25, Gardiner’s office purchased another $405 in toner.
  • November 7, his office spent $168 on 30,000 sheets of copier paper. There were no notable large purchases of copier paper in 2019.
  • November 21, his office purchased a stunning $2,494 in toner, six of each color.
  • December 8, his office spent $300 on another 50,000 sheets of copier paper.
Photo courtesy Ald. Gardiner: A city employee in Gardiner’s office, on city time, bagging masks for Gardiner’s promotional distribution
Photo courtesy Ald. Gardiner: bagged masks and the Gardiner Angel flyer he has printed at city expense to delivery door-to-door

What’s missing

According to sources familiar with the situation, at least one of Gardiner’s staff members who resigned did so because they had been told by Gardiner they would be paid for their work on his Committeeperson campaign. However, when it came time to pay up, Gardiner instead put through a pay raise with the city as compensation instead of paying from his $83,000 campaign fund. The employee resigned and was never paid.

Lavish and unusual bonuses

A page from Joyce Schraeder’s personnel file obtained from the City’s Dept. of Human Resources

Joyce’s husband, Tom Schraeder, was caught on video just three days later knocking on doors representing himself as “with the Alderman’s office” out talking to constituents about nearby development projects. Up until recently, Tom Schraeder was also a relentless commenter on Alderman Gadiner’s Facebook page, effusing praise for Gardiner’s every move while doxxing, threatening, and launching ad hominem attacks against Gardiner’s critics. The Schraeder’s are not 45th Ward residents.

While Schraeder’s unorthodox bump in city pay for the month of December was by far the largest, it wasn’t the only one. Staffer Maree Joyce received a one-month increase in pay from $3,750 to $9,000, resulting in an extra $5,250. Even part-time staffers, often described as “Gardiner Angels” received unusual increases. Macallister Foley went from $13/hr in January 2020 to $27/hr in October to $40/hr in December. Patrick McKermitt was hired in August at $30/hr, then went to $40 in December, back to $30/hr on January 1. As of January 15 2021 both McKermitt and Foley were adjusted back down to $15/hr. Both McKermitt and Foley have fathers who are or were employed by CFD.

By comparison, if you check out former Alderman John Arena’s campaign account, he seems to have paid holiday bonuses for his staff out of campaign funds, not games with taxpayer funds.

Miscellaneous questionable purchases ($800)

A 1400W fireplace heater purchased by Ald Gardner’s office in December 2020

Between the payments documented here and our first part of this story, we’ve identified approximately $50,000 is spending that seem more suited to campaign expenditures rather than official functions of the ward office, which would have amounted to 60% of Gardiner’s campaign funds available today. But instead of spending his money, he spent ours.

Hopefully the city will start paying more attention and applying greater scrutiny to this wasteful spending.

Chicago Northwest Side News. Watchdog. Holding public officials and candidates accountable.