CHICAGO – The city’s ethics board is calling for tougher penalties for aldermen who violate the council’s code of conduct after Ald. Jim Gardiner reportedly retaliated against voters who criticized him.
According to the conclusions of the Ethics Council published On Tuesday, the group wants city council members to create an ordinance that would make the agency’s code of conduct enforceable by law – not just “ambitious” as it currently is. This means that officials caught flouting campaign finance rules or otherwise abusing their power would face penalties such as fines, suspension and dismissal.
The board’s finding on probable cause in September revealed that Gardiner had violated the “ambitious” code of conduct.
“Many of these standards should not only be ambitious, but should be substantial, actionable and enforceable,” said Steve Berlin, executive director of the ethics committee.
At the closed-door board meeting on Monday, they voted to postpone the case over an anonymous city official suspected of “withholding municipal services” to a political opponent and disclosing the criminal record of a voter in acts of revenge – two things Gardiner has been accused of in recent months, although he was not named in the report. These complaints are currently under investigation by the city’s inspector general.
Berlin said it could “neither confirm nor deny” that Gardiner was the subject of the ethics committee’s findings of violation, but the alderman is faced with these specific allegations which Block Club has covered at length.
“Many of these ambitious goals reflect conduct the public has every right to expect from city officials,” Ethics Committee Chairman William Conlon said at Monday’s meeting. “Failure to comply with these standards should lead to action under the Ethics Ordinance. “
Other behaviors described in the code state that public servants should “make honest efforts in the performance of their duties; treat members of the public with respect and be responsive and open in responding to their requests for information; and, act impartially in the performance of their duties, so that no private organization or individual receives preferential treatment.
The board plans to meet with Ald. Michele Smith (43rd), chair of the city council committee on ethics and government oversight, to discuss how to change city rules to make the code of conduct more enforceable.
“As always, I welcome any opportunity to work with Steve Berlin, Bill Conlon and the entire Ethics Board to continue to perfect Chicago’s ethical rules and regulations,” Smith said in a statement to the Block Club.
The city council has updated the city’s ethics ordinance nearly a dozen times over the past decade – most recently in 2019, when Mayor Lori Lightfoot banned so-called ‘lobbying cross ”between elected officials from different governments. Ald. Jason Ervin (29e) pushed back this ban last year, but other aldermen have resisted.
The ethics committee can make a “final determination” of Gardiner’s violation and fine him after the Inspector General’s investigation is completed. Penalties could go up to $ 5,000 per violation – or up to $ 2,000 if they occurred before September 2019, when city council voted to increase the fine.
Separately, on Monday, the ethics committee rejected a plea by Jay Doherty, the indicted former president of the City Club of Chicago, to reconsider a $ 75,000 fine the board leveled against him last month.
The board found that Doherty had “lobbied on behalf of entities for which the individual had not duly registered as a lobbyist” in 2015 and 2019, according to the ethics committee. City rules allow the ethics committee to fine Doherty $ 1,000 for each day he allegedly engaged in unregistered lobbying activities with each client. By that standard, the board could have fined more than $ 2 million, officials said.
Doherty last month asked the board to reconsider its decision, but the body voted unanimously on Monday to dismiss the petition, “because no newly discovered facts have been presented to warrant such a re-examination.” according to ethics committee files.
The council also referred to the Inspector General a complaint that an appointed municipal official “failed to disclose a financial interest pending before the city.” And he voted to ratify a legal opinion outlining the safeguards aldermen must follow if they are to sell personal property in their own neighborhoods without tripping the city’s ethical rules.
Those investigations began in September after leaked text messages between Gardiner and a former aide became public. The posts showed Gardiner calling town hall workers and voters “b-tches” and “c-ts” and included text saying “That bitch on Kildare will pay,” referring to a resident who had criticized him.
Gardiner is also facing a slew of allegations that include voters starting a virtual public meeting and looking for police reports on a business owner who disagreed with his development decisions.
The FBI, the Ethics Board, the Circuit Court Clerk’s Office, and the Inspector General’s Office are investigating Gardiner’s conduct in office.
Last month, the beleaguered alderman was stripped of his role on all Cook County Democratic Party committees and formally reprimanded by the party on the basis of his “obscene” language seen in text messages.
In addition to the council’s findings, Gardiner also faces three separate lawsuits. More recently, the voter whose former criminal history was disclosed – one of the findings the ethics committee deemed a potential violation of the city code – sued Gardiner for allegedly violating his rights under the first amendment and for attempted retaliation.
In June, six residents sued Gardiner for allegedly blocking them or removing critical comments on his Facebook page. Gardiner, who has hired a private attorney to represent him in the case, has sought to dismiss the lawsuit, which is now in the hands of a judge, lawyer Mark Weinberg said.
Last year, a former Northwest Side resident filed a federal complaint against Gardiner and his warden, alleging that the two falsely accused the man of a felony, harassed him and did so stop because of a lost cell phone.
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