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Avis LaVelle must come completely clean in Park District lifeguard scandal

The parks board president needs to step up and detail what she and others in management knew about the scandal, and when. The public deserves more than a generic explanation that “mistakes were made.”

Chicago Park District Board President Avis LaVelle speaks to reporters, during a press conference providing an update to the ongoing investigations at the Chicago Parks District, at Jesse White Park, Tuesday, Nov. 2, 2021.
Chicago Park District Board President Avis LaVelle speaks to reporters Tuesday during a press conference on the ongoing investigations at the Chicago Park District.
Tyler LaRiviere/Sun-Times

Avis LaVelle has more explaining to do, and she needs to do it fast.

The Chicago Park District board president said she was banking on ousted Supt. Mike Kelly to be telling the truth when he told her he was handling sexual harassment and abuse complaints from female lifeguards.

But Kelly wasn’t in a hurry to address the damning allegations, and even lied about how he dealt with one young lifeguard’s complaints, a recent report by special counsel Valarie Hays revealed.

“You know what you are told,” LaVelle initially said this week after Park District officials announced the firings of three more high-ranking parks employees in the wake of the lifeguard abuse scandal.

When pressed, LaVelle finally accepted some responsibility, albeit half-heartedly.

But to clear up this mess once and for all, and restore the Park District’s badly damaged credibility, LaVelle has got to be more forthcoming.

As Ethics Chair Michele Smith (43rd) has pointed out, the Park District’s inspector general reports directly and only to LaVelle, who has been board president since 2019. IG Elaine Little, who has since resigned, started an investigation into the harassment among lifeguards in March 2020.

Was LaVelle, a savvy City Hall veteran who’s worked for every administration since Mayor Richard M. Daley, truly kept in the dark?

Smith and Finance Committee Chair Scott Waguespack (32nd) say they don’t buy LaVelle’s claim she relied on Kelly to be truthful about steps he was taking to respond to the abuse complaints.

What LaValle needs to do is step up and detail what she and others in management knew and when. Give names and a timeline.

Give the public more than a generic explanation that “mistakes were made.”

Hays’ report found “no evidence” that former Deputy Inspector General Nathan Kipp was fired to “whitewash” the lifeguard abuse investigation, as Kipp asserts. Yet, why he got the ax has never been detailed.

The who, what, when and how would “shed light” on that matter alone, as Smith said.

The Park District isn’t just any city agency. Many of its employees are teenagers and even younger children participate in its programs.

Heads may keep rolling. But as long as there are no clear answers as to why the toxic atmosphere was tolerated for so long, and why there was a lack of urgency in addressing the harassment claims, people won’t feel safe sending their children to any park district-related activity.

The ball is in LaVelle’s court to restore public confidence.

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