The Chicago Park District board took no action on Friday after hearing a closed-door report on the superintendent. Mike Kelly’s handling of a growing scandal involving allegations of sexual harassment and abuse of lifeguards at city pools and beaches.
Friday’s emergency session was called by the board to hear evidence gathered by an outside law firm on the scandal and Kelly’s potential role in its cover-up. The walls seemed to close for Kelly, but after three and a half hours behind closed doors, the board members did not say what should happen next.
Council then adjourned without further comment. A spokesperson for Mayor Lori Lightfoot made no comment when asked about council’s lack of action.
Although five influential city council members – joined by the progressive council caucus on Friday – have called for Kelly’s ouster, Lightfoot has repeatedly said she will wait for the outcome of the investigation before deciding to keep Kelly.
The report, written by former federal prosecutor Valarie Hays, has not been made public.
Kelly, 50, was not visible in the virtual meeting as he normally is at board meetings. Kelly, a holdover from Rahm Emanuel, has been the head of the park district for a decade and has a contract until Dec.31, 2022, with an annual salary of $ 230,000.
The Sun-Times reported in August that in February 2020, an Oak Street Beach lifeguard sent 11 pages of explosive allegations to Kelly about the conduct of lifeguards in the summer of 2019.
She said she was pushed against a wall, called sexually degrading and profane names by other rescuers, and left for hours at her post for refusing to participate in their alcoholic and drug-consuming parties at work.
Kelly has been criticized for asking senior officials to investigate these complaints instead of immediately referring the allegations to the Park District Inspector General.
He resisted repeated requests for his resignation. And while Kelly admitted his doubts about how he handled the First Woman’s complaint, he flatly denied any involvement in a cover-up.
Although required by Park District rules, Kelly did not contact the Inspector General until a more explicit complaint from a second rescuer about more serious allegations was forwarded to her by Lightfoot’s office.
Unrelated to Ed Kelly, a longtime former park superintendent, Mike Kelly was hired in 2003 as Director of Intergovernmental Affairs after serving as Deputy Mayor Richard M. Daley. Kelly quickly joined the Parks Legal Department as the first Deputy General Counsel. In 2007, he became COO.
His salary increased from $ 180,000 per year in 2011 when he was appointed superintendent to $ 230,000 in 2020.
Before being summarily suspended and then fired, the deputy inspector general at the time, Nathan Kipp, was investigating the rescuer.
Kipp called his ouster a “concerted effort” to prevent him from “continuing to investigate criminal activity and employee misconduct that appears to be invading” the Beaches and Pools unit.
Cook County State Attorney Kim Foxx has launched his own investigation into whether the rescuer scandal has reached the level of criminal charges.
Already, the Park District has disciplined 40 people.
The lifeguard scandal is not the only controversy under Kelly’s watch.
The same goes for the fact that the Parks District Inspector General he hired, Elaine L. Little, was forced to resign after a controversy erupted over an affair she had. had with a colleague at a previous job.
Little, the ex-wife of State Representative Curtis Tarver (D-Chicago) resigned just hours after a WBEZ investigation showed while overseeing investigations at the Cook County Juvenile Detention Center , she had had an extramarital affair and a child with a colleague. This sparked an interrupted conflict of interest investigation when she resigned in 2018.
Additionally, Kelly has taken the public’s heat for signing a contract with Amazon to install lockers in public parks and for her now-overturned decision to remove a lifebuoy from Pratt Pier in Rogers Park – where swimming is prohibited – to avoid a repeat of the drowning that killed 19-year-old Miguel Cisneros.
The Chicago Bears have also accused Kelly of refusing to engage in good faith discussions over their year-long request to create a sports betting mecca near Soldier Field.
The rejected request is another reason the team signed a deal to buy the now closed 326-acre Arlington International Racecourse site for $ 197.2 million.
Kelly was also the biggest public champion behind a controversial Jackson Park and South Shore golf course merger.
The merger gained momentum when former President Barack Obama chose Jackson Park as his presidential center. But, the $ 30 million plan ran into a fundraising glitch, derailing Kelly’s plan to quickly begin construction.
There were also new disclosures this week from the Sun-Times.
First, an adult male supervisor in the Chicago Park District abruptly resigned after being accused of an “inappropriate relationship” with an underage employee who previously worked as a seasonal lifeguard.
Then the Sun-Times revealed that despite public statements to the contrary, Kelly and the board did not agree to terminate his potentially expensive golden parachute contract.
Two months ago, Kelly defended her decision to give her senior executives the first opportunity to investigate the woman rescuer’s complaints, even though the February 7, 2020 email “made my blood boil” because that the behavior she described was abusive and “disgusting”.
“I asked my managers a reasonable question, namely, ‘Can you find out about this? Do we have any complaints? Are there any other complaints? What’s going on, guys? ‘ Kelly told WBBM-AM (780) reporter Craig Dellimore.
“Looking back, should I have given it to the Inspector General that day?” Maybe I should have. … And that’s my word against anyone. But I gave it to my managers. The second letter arrived, and I realized that one is terrible. Two is too much.
That day, Kelly was asked if he made a distinction between the first complaint, which described physical abuse, sexual harassment, and drug and alcohol use, and the woman’s second letter, which alleged endemic sexual abuse and sexual violence.
“I’m not going to cut the onion and say, ‘That was bad behavior. It was criminal behavior. Everything is going wrong. It belongs to me. I made this decision. And I still stick to it. I think it was the right decision, ”said Kelly, whose staff reached out to Dellimore to tell their side of the story.
During this interview, Kelly insisted that his first priority was to “protect the children” who attend Park District camps and programs and the young men and women who work as lifeguards and that he will not rest. not as long as there is no abuse of any kind.
What about the young woman who was promised – by him – an immediate investigation by the Inspector General that she did not obtain?
“My word was I wasn’t going to rest until this was uprooted and every bad actor dealt with – whether it was a suspension, firing or me sitting in a Cook County courtroom at the front row to support them as they pursue these people. That was my commitment then. It was my commitment now, “said Kelly.