In the past month, Ald. Gardiner got taxpayers to pay for a “Gardiner Angels” logo redesign, video editing services used to question a local reporter’s integrity, more signs to litter the parkways with his name on them, and new clothes. Despite his salary of $123,000 and another $170,000 sitting in his campaign bank account, Gardiner’s preferred method to pay most expenses is to fleece taxpayers.
Meanwhile, the City’s Department of Finance continues to provide lax oversight. The only recent expense rejected as inappropriate was Gardiner’s second attempt to charge back packs of birthday and sympathy cards.
Video created to criticize journalist
On March 26, Gardiner posted this video of an interview with CBS 2’s political investigative reporter, Dana Koslov. The video was posted with the caption, “Are we being told both sides of the story? #standforsomethingorfallforanything” and depicted four minutes of a woman defending Gardiner’s creation of a residential permit parking zone which forces some residents with disabilities to park several blocks away from their home.
Gardiner’s video was posted four days after the March 22 interview which aired March 23 on CBS 2. Records obtained through our Freedom of Information Act request show Gardiner had taxpayers pick up the tab for “video production” services on March 22, paying 606 Digital Media, owned by Claudio Mendrano.
A resident happened to catch the video production, posting a photo to Twitter, clearly showing Mendrano recording the Koslov interview outside of Gardiner’s ward office.
Mendrano confirmed via email that he recorded this video and this was the service described in the invoice paid by the city. When asked why the taxpayers were footing the bill, Mendrano explained, “once service has been rendered I submit an invoice for payment, how they pay me is not within my control. It is the responsibility of the client to specify any instructions on how they require me to bill them.”
While Gardiner has every right to film and edit a story to try to tell an alternative version of events, taxpayers should not be footing the bill to craft videos in defense of Gardiner’s ego or to attack individual journalists.
Gardiner just did something similar last week, posting this highly edited propaganda video, which edits out almost all of Chicago Police Superintendent Brown’s comments, even changing the ordering of events, to make it appear as if Gardiner gave a fiery speech to which Brown could muster no response. The original, unedited video can be seen here (4hr 41m mark), along with our recap of the actual conversation in which Brown shoots down most of Gardiner’s arguments and leading questions.
Mendrano told us that he did not produce the Brown video and was unaware of it until we brought it to his attention. It remains to be seen if Gardiner will also have taxpayers foot the bill for this alternate reality video.
City pays for winged self-promotional logo
The video wasn’t Gardiner’s only expenditure with Mendrano though. In addition to Mendrano’s work on Gardiner’s website, earlier this year, Gardiner unveiled a new logo for his “Gardiner Angels” political organization. City records show that taxpayers paid 606 Digital Media to create the new “Angels” logo. City rules prohibit aldermen spending on advertising. It’s unclear what city business a logo would provide.
A Twitter user found that the basis for the logo was taken from the internet and modified to add Gardiner’s name.
Gardiner publicly portrays the “Angels” as volunteers out and about cleaning up the ward in his name, whacking weeds, distributing literature, and sometimes disposing of “unnecessary debris.” In reality, nearly all of those depicted in his “Angels” photos are part-time ward staff on the city payroll.
Three of the photos highlighting the “Angels” on his official website show his “volunteers” distributing packets of masks which promoted gubernatorial candidate Willie Wilson during campaign season. Gardiner charged many of the materials used to create these packets back to taxpayers, while Wilson donated another $2,000 to Gardiner’s political campaign.
In June, Gardiner spent over $2,200 on more signage, with another order of Gardiner-branded “Clean up after your dog” lawn signs and an order of “We Call Police” signs. According to the invoice, Gardiner was given 500 free police signs, which he failed to disclose in ethics or campaign finance reports.
In June 2020, Gardiner posted on his official Facebook page a call for local artists to submit new designs for “We Call Police” signs. It is unclear if this is the winning design unattributed to an artist or if Gardiner failed to receive any submissions from local artists.
It’s common for alderpersons to print and distribute such signs. What’s unusual is for taxpayers to pay for them. Most other alderpersons pay for these types of materials out of their campaign funds. Gardiner currently has over $173,000 in his campaign fund, which he rarely spends on anything, instead preferring to submit nearly all of his expenses to the City. Even his campaign funds come with questions of transparency and authenticity as we reported last week.
We have yet to see the expenses come through for Gardiner’s new self-promotional lanyards which have been appearing in resident’s mailboxes and could not possibly fulfill any official purpose, but they’ll probably show up on city reports soon.
Gardiner got taxpayers to buy him even more clothing in June, as he purchased 17 new black polos embroidered with his name from Land’s End. We’ve previously reported Gardiner’s spending on clothing, with taxpayers funding an entire wardrobe of polos, t-shirts, fleece’s, and jackets. Gardiner is paid more than $123,000 as an alderperson, yet taxpayers are buying him clothes.
No Means No
Gardiner’s strategy seems to be “charge everything back to the City and see if they’ll say no”. But even when the Finance Department says no, Gardiner isn’t one to be deterred by rejection. In May, Gardiner’s office tried to expense over $165 in birthday and sympathy cards. The City determined these were not allowable expenses. So what did Gardiner’s office do? They resubmitted the expenses again in June, embedded within a long list of nearly thirty other office expenses. The Department of Finance caught it and again rejected the reimbursement requests.
Why are taxpayers buying a highly paid official a wardrobe of clothes and other frivolous items (even a fireplace), which are not in service of the ward or city? Why are taxpayers paying for political logos and propaganda videos? Why does the Department of Finance continue to provide so little oversight on these problematic expenses?
Gardiner and the City’s Comptroller, Reshma Soni, failed to respond to multiple inquiries related to this story.