The Chicago Board of Ethics unanimously asked the city’s watchdog to probe whether Ald. Jim Gardiner (45th Ward) violated the city’s Governmental Ethics Ordinance twice by using his office to retaliate against his political foes.
An attorney for Gardiner objected to the board’s determination in September that there was probable cause to believe that the alderperson who represents parts of the Far Northwest Side had twice violated the ethics ordinance by using his office to retaliate against his political foes.
Based on “factual issues” raised by Gardiner’s attorney, the board voted 5-0 to ask Chicago’s inspector general to conduct “a full factual investigation” of the “veracity and accuracy of these new factual claims and defenses,” according to the board’s records.
Gardiner did not respond to a request for comment Tuesday from WTTW News.
Violations of the city Governmental Ethics Ordinance could result in fines ranging between $200 to $5,000 per violation, but the board declined to fine Gardiner after hearing from his lawyer, despite their finding of probable cause.
WTTW News reported Sept. 14 that the FBI is probing allegations Gardiner took bribes and demanded payments before taking official actions.
The board’s September decision, which did not name Gardiner in keeping with its rules of procedure, found that there is probable cause to conclude that the alderperson violated the city’s ethics rules on two separate occasions.
The first violation occurred when the alderperson directed a staff member to “consider and discuss with the official withholding city services to a constituent because the constituent appears to have supported a political opponent of the official,” according to the board’s decision.
The second violation occurred when the alderperson directed a staff member “to obtain and ‘leak’ to social media criminal records of a constituent who had taken a position on matter different from the official’s,” according to the board’s decision.
In addition, directing city employees in that manner violates the Governmental Ethics Ordinance’s prohibition on using city resources for personal matters, according to the board’s decision.
The board also found that the alderperson violated the city’s ethical code of conduct, which requires city officials to “treat members of the public with respect and be responsive and forthcoming in their requests for information” and “act impartially in the performance of their duties, so that no private organization or individual is given preferential treatment.”
The board’s action also encouraged the Chicago City Council to amend the ethics ordinance to allow officials to enforce that code of conduct and sanction those officials who violate that code, which is now “aspirational.”
“Many of these now ‘aspirational’ goals describe conduct by city employees and elected and appointed officials the public is absolutely entitled to expect from its public employees and officials,” according to a statement from the board. “Failure to meet these standards should be actionable and enforceable by the Board of Ethics; the ordinance should be amended accordingly. The public deserves no less.”
Mayor Lori Lightfoot has twice called for the inspector general to probe whether Gardiner used the power of his office to retaliate against political critics.
A measure by Ald. Rossana Rodriguez Sanchez (33rd Ward) calls on the City Council to hold a hearing into Gardiner’s behavior and consider censuring him. However, that resolution has failed to get a hearing.
Gardiner was elected in 2019 to represent parts of Jefferson Park, Norwood Park, Portage Park and Old Irving Park.