In a letter Thursday to the City Council, Ald. Michele Smith, Chair of the Committee on Ethics and Government Oversight, informed all Alderpersons that the Inspector General had come to her regarding Council members’ staff and volunteers who had disposed of the belongings of people experiencing homelessness.
According to the letter, the Inspector General asked Smith to inform Alderpersons of the law and City policy regarding the rights of people experiencing homelessness and past legal settlements that govern how the City removes personal items.
The letter seems to be direct response to an incident in January in which 45th Ward Ald. Jim Gardiner’s applauded his staff for disposing of a man’s belonging, described by Gardiner as “unnecessary debris.”
As we previously reported, Gardiner was immediately informed by constituents what had happened, as the community rallied to provide replacement items to the man as temperatures dropped to dangerous levels.
At the time, Tom Schraeder, the husband of one of Gardiner’s full-time aides acknowledged that Gardiner had disposed of a homeless man’s belongings, while also putting forth a lie that Gardiner had in some way helped the man that day. Later, Gardiner would claim he was unaware a man experiencing homelessness was even involved.
Gardiner refused to speak directly with media about the incident. After 11 days of mounting constituent questions and concerns and media attention, Gardiner finally took to Facebook in a second post, pretending that he just learned that the “unnecessary debris” was in fact a homeless resident’s belongings.
In his post, Gardiner claimed he had contacted the Department of Family and Support Services and said they met with Kenneth Padletic that morning, the man whose belongings Gardiner’s staff had taken. Multiple Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests and inquiries to DFSS showed no record of a call or request from Gardiner. DFSS also had no record of making a visit over the weekend. Reportedly DFSS does not make onsite visits for such calls, particularly not over the weekend. When asked the next day, Padletic said he received no such visit.
The “Gardiner Angels” referred to in Gardiner’s post are an alleged volunteer organization of helpers who mow grass, whack weeds, shovel snow, and clean up viaducts. Most of Gardiner’s photos on social media depicting the “Angels” tell a different picture — nearly all of the photos show part-time staff who are on the City payroll.
While Gardiner has claimed Padletic’s belongings were taken by an unnamed volunteer, timesheets obtained via FOIA from the City show one of his part-time staffers, often depicted in other posts as an “Angel”, was working the morning Padletic’s food and possessions were discarded. The staffer on the clock that morning happens to be the nephew of one of the Fire Chiefs involved in Gardiner’s charade to kill the Cuyler Plaza project.
Since this incident, Gardiner has failed to express any genuine remorse for the part he and his staff played. While the community responded quickly to replace Padletic’s belongings, Gardiner made no such effort. Other than posting a photo of himself while Padletic entered a Salvation Army van days later, Gardiner appears to have done little in response other than the bare minimum on social media to manage damage control.
Smith’s letter concludes by noting “most Aldermen” simply contact the Department of Streets and Sanitation about such issues, saying they are “well-versed” in the law and City policy that need to be followed.
It is unclear why it took nearly six months for the Inspector General to address what would appear to be a clear violation of the law — and then chose to simply remind alderpersons of the law and City policy, with no other apparent consequences.