Chicago Park District CEO Mike Kelly resigns

 

Chicago Park District CEO Mike Kelly resigned Saturday, more than a year after he reportedly first learned about the wide-ranging sexual abuse allegations among lifeguards that would come to dominate the city agency.

In a text to the Tribune, Kelly forwarded a resignation letter he sent to Park District Board president Avis LaVelle on Saturday that said his departure was “effective immediately.”

“It has been an honor to steward this extraordinary organization for the past ten years,” he wrote. “It has also been an honor to serve Chicagoans as a public servant for the past 27 years. I have always had the best interests of our patrons and our employees at heart.”

Kelly stepped down the same day Mayor Lori Lightfoot released a statement calling for his immediate removal following a Friday emergency Chicago Park District Board of Commissioners meeting. In that session, which was closed to the public, Lightfoot urged for Kelly’s ouster, she said.

“The culture of sexual abuse, harassment, and coercion that has become pervasive within the District’s Aquatics Department lifeguard program under his leadership, combined with the Superintendent’s lack of urgency or accountability as new facts have come to light, is unacceptable,” Lightfoot wrote on Saturday. “Therefore, in my estimation, it is time for new leadership immediately.”

During Friday’s Park District board meeting, an hours-long closed presentation by an outside counsel centered on “various employment and personnel issues” but ended with no action taken. LaVelle, the board president, did not immediately respond to request for comment Saturday.

Park District spokeswoman Michele Lemons wrote in a brief Saturday statement, “Michael Kelly resigned from his position as General Superintendent & CEO of the Chicago Park District.”

Kelly, who was appointed permanently by former Mayor Rahm Emanuel in 2011, led the agency during the time of the scandal first reported by WBEZ in April. Alleged victims described a misogynistic culture among workers at city pools and beaches that included sexual assault against minors and retribution for reporting the abuse.

According to the WBEZ report, Kelly was informed of the first allegation early February 2020 but did not forward the complaints to the inspector general until mid-March that year. Recently, several aldermen and eventually Lightfoot called for his resignation, citing the lack of action against the disturbing allegations.
Chicago Park District Superintendent and CEO Mike Kelly speaks during the groundbreaking ceremony for the Aids Garden Chicago on June 2, 2021.
Chicago Park District Superintendent and CEO Mike Kelly speaks during the groundbreaking ceremony for the Aids Garden Chicago on June 2, 2021. (Stacey Wescott / Chicago Tribune)

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Complaints of retaliation surrounding the misconduct have reached as high as the Chicago Park District watchdog’s office. In August, the deputy inspector general of the agency, Nathan Kipp, said he was placed on an indefinite suspension that he speculated was because he was “zealously pursuing this investigation.” He specifically criticized Kelly, who opened a new office of protection, for “opaque ‘reforms.’”

Since the probe into sexual misconduct at the parks district began, the agency has reprimanded more than 40 employees in the Beaches and Pool Unit for sexual harassment, Kelly announced in August. That includes nine workers allegedly tied to sexual misconduct and abuse there, and two high-level managers.

Two employees were fired and six resigned, while others got written reprimands or suspensions. Most recently, a supervisor was suspended and then resigned Monday after an investigation included screenshots of texts describing “inappropriate communications” and “choking done in a sexual manner” between him and an underage former employee.

Also this week, Cook County state’s attorney Kim Foxx upped her investigation into the Park District scandal by publicly calling for victims to reach out to her office.

Correction: An earlier version of this story misstated the amount of months since Mike Kelly reportedly first learned of sexual misconduct allegations at the Park District. It was 20 months.

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