With warm weather upon us, Park District needs a permanent superintendent

Seven months after former parks boss Mike Kelly’s ouster, Mayor Lori Lightfoot and the Chicago Park District board have yet to name a permanent superintendent — and won’t say why they haven’t. This makes no sense.

SHARE With warm weather upon us, Park District needs a permanent superintendent
Rosa Escareño, Interim CEO of the Chicago Park District, speaks to a group of community members and reporters, during a town hall meeting at Horner Park’s field house, where Escareño gave a presentation on the new Office of Prevention and Accountability, Monday, March 21, 2022.

Rosa Escareño wants to be named superintendent and CEO of the Chicago Park District. Mayor Lightfoot should give her the nod

Tyler Pasciak LaRiviere/Sun-Times file

When former Chicago Park District Supt. Mike Kelly flamed out last October for failing to deal with allegations of sexual misconduct among the agency’s lifeguards, Mayor Lori Lightfoot brought aboard a steady hand as interim superintendent to help get things in order.

City Hall veteran Rosa Escareno has done a capable job since taking over the Park District. She even created the Office of Prevention and Accountability, a $617,139-a-year department with five investigators charged with preventing and investigating sexual assault within the district and providing support to victims.

But nearly seven months after Kelly’s ouster, Lightfoot and the Park District board have yet to name a permanent replacement for the former superintendent. Escareno holds the $230,000 a year job, but just 90 days at a time, with extensions given when the clock runs out. The most recent extension was last week.

And the mayor’s office and the Park District have been mum on what progress has been made since October on their search for a new superintendent.

This makes little sense to us.

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Time for action

The problem isn’t Escareno’s unwillingness to take the job. She says she would be “honored” to have the post.

“This has been such a joyous and really a wonderful opportunity to be able to continue to be in public service and in a way that I never imagined,” she told the Chicago Sun-Times’ City Hall reporter Fran Spielman before last week’s board meeting.

Lightfoot seemed to support giving Escareno the nod: “She’s done a yeoman’s job in starting the process of righting the ship. ... The fact that the Park District isn’t in the news on a daily basis — as it was not that long ago — is a great testament to Rosa and her team,” she said.

But instead of voting to take away “interim” from Escareno’s title, Park District officials last week granted her a one-month extension — 60 days shorter than the previous ones she received. The district, along with the mayor’s office, declined to say why.

As Chicago rolls into the warm weather months when parks usage is at its peak, the $510 million agency needs a permanent boss to make sure programs are running correctly and the promised reforms come to fruition.

Lightfoot and the Park District must get off the dime and either give the post to Escareno or fully open up about the search for a new superintendent.

They can’t keep both Escareno and the public in the dark.

Send letters toletters@suntimes.com.

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