The Chicago Park District’s leader has come under fire for the district’s handling of sexual harassment and misconduct allegations brought forth by former female lifeguards.
As first reported by WBEZ, Michael Kelly, the head of the Chicago Park District received a detailed, lengthy and disturbing complaint letter from a former lifeguard, and promised the woman he would act on the allegations of “extreme abuse.” But Kelly didn’t act until six weeks later, the radio station reported.
The letter, which Kelly said he received in February of 2020 from the daughter of a longtime acquaintance, included accusations against park district employees including physical abuse, sexual harassment and drug and alcohol abuse.
“The first thing I did was I responded right away,” he said. “I hadn’t even read it yet, and my reaction was that we were going to move, and we were going to move swiftly, and we are going to move passionately.”
The park district has repeatedly declined to answer questions about Kelly’s delay in forwarding the complaint letter, according to WBEZ.
Kelly, who has been the city’s parks’ chief since 2011, said he asked senior managers to check into the allegations and sent the letter to the park district’s inspector general.
Then, six weeks later, he received a letter from a second individual including a complaint of criminal sexual assault. That, Kelly said, resulted in an 18-month-long investigation into alleged wrongdoing by park district employees.
As many as five lifeguards implicated in the probe have left their positions, but the district said criminal charges are still being considered.
Kelly has instituted new training for lifeguards and other employees and continues to cooperate with the inspector general’s investigation.
“My commitment to the first call I got…from the dad…my commitment to her and any victim is that we are going to move this on and not give up until we do,” Kelly said.
Addressing the situation Thursday, Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot said she feels the Park District has taken the necessary steps, but said, “We can never rest on issues like this.”
Kelly, meanwhile, says he has no plans to resign and the safety of children remains a top priority.