Chicago Park District Board President Avis LaVelle resigns amid lifeguard scandal

Chicago News

CHICAGO, ILLINOIS – MAY 28: A red flag signifying unsafe conditions flies near an empty lifeguard stand at North Avenue Beach on May 28, 2021 in Chicago, Illinois. Today was the first day that beaches in the city were officially opened since the before the start of the COVID-19 pandemic but, temperatures in the mid 40s, high winds, waves and rip currents had swimming bans in place and kept most visitors away. (Photo by Scott Olson/Getty Images)

CHICAGO — Chicago Park District president Avis LaVelle announced her resignation Wednesday.

The Chicago Sun-Times reports LaVelle stepped down during Wednesday afternoon’s board meeting. LaVelle was under fire for her handling of the park district’s response to sexual harassment and abuse among lifeguards.

Six female lifeguards are accusing three male lifeguards at the Chicago Park District of misconduct.

The allegations, first reported by WBEZ, were made public in a report by the park district’s inspector general.

Two of the male lifeguards resigned during the investigation to avoid termination. A third male lifeguard resigned this year.

Former Park District CEO Mike Kelly and three top aides already lost their jobs due to the scandal.

The statement read as follows:

For more than 30 years, I have been in public service for the City of Chicago—for all but three of those years and right through to the present, I volunteered as a board member and in Board leadership.

In all those years, I operated with fairness, honesty, and integrity. These are the values that have guided my actions every step of the way.     

And in all cases, my commitment to public service has come from my heart.  I love this city and its residents and have been guided by my desire to do what I can to give back.   

Today, I speak to you with that same commitment.  

As I have said before, I am deeply sorry the culture of abuse and harassment was allowed to fester in the Beaches & Pools Division of the Chicago Park District.   It is apparent that this went on for many years, even decades before I joined the CPD Board.  I take responsibility because it came to light on my watch.  

My fellow board members are not to blame for this culture of abuse and should not be held responsible. My fellow commissioners were not aware of the investigation for many, months. The Office of Inspector General reports only to the Board President and all investigations are held confidential until they reach a conclusion.   

I fully supported a thorough investigation—one that followed the facts to reveal what happened, who was responsible for this abusive behavior, and who tried to cover it up instead of addressing it. 

While the facts may not matter to everyone, I am confident that the facts to date and those yet to be disclosed will show that I acted honestly and responsibly here, as I have throughout my entire public career. If you know me, then you know that’s how I have lived my life publicly and privately.  

My integrity and reputation are among the things I value most. I came to this board position with my integrity and reputation intact.  I would do nothing– in this role or in any position– to put that at risk.  

I have worked alongside the new CPD leadership to initiate policy changes that are underway—with much more to come—to build the positive, nurturing culture the Park District, its employees, and patrons all deserve.  

As the work at CPD moves forward, I am gratified to see the positive impact of new leadership. I have known and worked with Interim Superintendent Rosa Escareno for many years.  I respect and admire her for the ability, fresh perspective and energy she is bringing to the Park District.  

With this understanding, I’ve made the decision to step down—guided by my values and consistent with my legacy of integrity. This will be my last meeting and my last day as President and as a member of the Chicago Park District Board of Commissioners.  

Let me be clear.  I am not being forced out.  Mayor Lightfoot did not ask me to resign. She has been resolute in her support of me publicly and privately. For that I am profoundly grateful.  

I thank Mayor Lightfoot for allowing me to serve the Park District under her administration and for allowing me the freedom to make this choice for myself and by myself.  

I extend my sincere thanks and gratitude to the many great men and women who work here—who have worked here over the decades. I grew up in Chicago Parks, and I met so many of those dedicated workers then—have met so many more being on the board for many years.  

Chicago parks are a vital part of the fabric of life here in Chicago. For generations, the parks have been our front yard gardens, our backyard playgrounds, and the place we gather with family & friends to learn, play, and preserve our health. 

With a lifelong appreciation for that role, it has been my honor and privilege to serve as President of the Chicago Park District Board of Commissioners.   

I leave you knowing that you are in good hands with a board comprised of committed public servants and a great new leadership team.  

I am stepping off this stage and on to the next with my head held high and with the knowledge that I have done my best to serve.  

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