Chicago Park District Mike Kelly resigned over the weekend after key actors lost confidence in his leadership of an agency consumed by a sex abuse scandal involving city lifeguards.
For months, WBEZ has pursued an investigation into girls working for the Park District as lifeguards being sexually harassed. Weeks went by last year between Kelly receiving their complaints and the district's inspector general beginning an investigation. WBEZ received the inspector general's report, which detailed dozens of similar allegations, in April, a year later.
The scandal accelerated this summer as the lifeguard whistleblower came forward and alleged an inadequate response from Kelly and Mayor Lori Lightfoot, the district's inspector general resigned due to an unrelated scandal and State's Attorney Kim Foxx announced her own investigation into not only sexual misconduct complaints at the Park District but allegations of obstruction of the investigation last month.
Former Mayor Rahm Emanuel hired Kelly in 2011. As it concerns Hyde Park, he has overseen the Park District throughout the agency's involvement with the Obama Presidential Center project in Jackson Park.
The City Council Progressive Caucus, chaired by Ald. Sophia King (4th), called for his resignation on Friday. King said least 14 of the 18 caucus members voted to request his resignation.
The Park District's Board of Commissioners met on Friday, and after Kelly did not resign after that, the caucus released their statement.
"We felt it was important because there is an obvious culture of sexual abuse in the department that happened under his watch, and because it was so pervasive, we thought it was only right that he resign," King said. "I certainly felt that he should resign. I gave him a call beforehand as well, because that's the kind of person I am as well, and let him know that coming down, and he took full responsibility for this happening under his watch and understood our position."
Alds. Leslie Hairston (5th) and Jeanette Taylor (20th) are glad Kelly is out.
"You cannot be dismissive towards claims of sexual misconduct or claims by women about inappropriate activity on the job," Hairston said. "This was a teenager."
Said Taylor, "People just have to be held accountable for things that happen under their watch, and this happened under his watch. It wasn't something that happened one or two times."
She does regret that his resignation was all-but-forced and would not have occurred had the exposé not happened. "It was all hush-hush-hush, which is why people don't trust government, because we aren't transparent, and we don't hold our own accountable," she said.
King said full investigations need to happen in circumstances like this, not only when people come forward, but whenever there is a semblance of any wrongdoing.
"I think there is a culture of not believing or taking women and young girls seriously, and that has to change, because these are serious allegations" she said. "We talking about, in some cases, rape and sexual assault."
King called for "an objective, thorough investigation into all allegations (and) any leadership that cultivated this culture." While she is a member (not chair) of the council's Committee on Special Events, Cultural Affairs and Recreation, she noted Foxx's involvement in the scandal, saying the scandal is beyond the committee's jurisdiction.
"I think there's enough light shed on this now, and now there just needs to be a point person to really thoroughly make sure that this doesn't happen again and that the victims have justice," she said. "And there needs to be communication that this was unacceptable."
None of the alderwomen know of misconduct in the Park District properties in their wards. King's ward has the longest stretch of lakefront in Chicago, from the 700 South block to 49th Street. There is no shortage of beaches in the 4th and 5th wards.
"I think the action that we took as a caucus is to mitigate that happening in the future, to give a voice to the victims who were overlooked, perhaps intentionally and culturally," King said. "And we wanted to shed light that this is wholeheartedly unacceptable."