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Park District CEO Resigns After Months Of Investigations Into Sex Abuse Among City Lifeguards

Parks CEO Mike Kelly was ousted after months of scrutiny over how he and the agency handled sexual violence allegations among city lifeguards.

Park District Superintendent Michael Kelly in September.
Alex V. Hernandez/Block Club Chicago
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CHICAGO — The Park District’s embattled CEO, Mike Kelly, resigned Saturday after months of scrutiny over how he and the agency handled sex abuse allegations among Park District lifeguards.

The Park District’s Board of Commissioners will now “move forward” with Mayor Lori Lightfoot to appoint an interim CEO “to give a heightened level of attention to the issues and concerns confronting” the Park District, according to an emailed statement.

WBEZ brought the scandal to light in April with a report detailing multiple reports of sexual violence among lifeguards, including a case where a higher-level lifeguard allegedly forced a girl to perform a sexual act. The reports also alleged people who tried to report sexual violence faced retribution.

The Park District’s investigation into the violence had already taken more than a year, with Kelly learning of the first report in February 2020 — though he didn’t send the allegation to a watchdog until that March, WBEZ reported.

But little change has come as a result of those allegations, and criticism mounted against Kelly and the Park District.

In August, Nathan Kipp, the Park District’s deputy inspector general, was placed on indefinite suspension. He said the suspension was possibly because he was “zealously pursing this investigation,” and he said Kelly had only responded with “opaque ‘reforms,'” according to the Tribune.

In August, Kelly said the Park District had reprimanded more than 40 employees for sexual harassment, including two high-level managers and nine workers, according to the Tribune. Two of the employees were fired and six resigned.

Lightfoot stood by Kelly for months and called for people to let an independent investigation take its course, including as recently as at a Sept. 10 news conference.

But aldermen called for Kelly to step aside, and, last week, State’s Attorney Kim Foxx publicly asked victims of the abuse to contact her office.

On Saturday, Lightfoot put out a letter calling for Kelly’s removal, saying there hadn’t been enough action. He resigned that day.

“It has been an honor to steward this extraordinary organization for the past 10 years,” Kelly wrote in his resignation letter. “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.”

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