Chicago Park District board picks new president

Myetie Hamilton replaces Avis LaVelle, who resigned in November under pressure for what mayoral allies called her negligent, “tone deaf” response to the sexual harassment and abuse of lifeguards at the city’s pools and beaches.

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People lay out, swim, and relax at Oak Street Beach, Wednesday, Aug. 4, 2021.

Oak Street Beach, shown in August. A scandal over the harassment and abuse of some female Chicago Park District lifeguards at city beaches and pools is among the challenges that face the new park board president, Myetie Hamilton.

Anthony Vazquez/Sun-Times

A former top aide to now-convicted former Chicago Public Schools CEO Barbara Byrd Bennett was chosen Wednesday as president of the Chicago Park District Board.

Myetie Hamilton was unanimously approved at the Park Board’s monthly meeting hours after Mayor Lori Lightfoot issued a press release anointing Hamilton as the mayor’s choice.

“I’m confident she will be an excellent leader for the Chicago Park District Board of Commissioners,” Lightfoot was quoted as saying in the release..

“With over two decades of experience in education and the public sector, I trust that Myetie will bring the skills and qualities needed to guide the system of the more than 600 parks in our city and strengthen our neighborhoods while improving the trust between our residents and the Park District.”

Hamilton replaces Avis LaVelle, who resigned in early November under pressure for what mayoral allies called her negligent, “tone deaf” response to the sexual harassment and abuse of lifeguards at city pools and beaches.

That means there is plenty of work to do to rebuild shattered public trust.

Hamilton seemed well aware of that as she took the reins at the tail end of Wednesday’s board meeting.

“I believe this is a rare opportunity for us. It’s an opportunity in a time of change to forge a path forward in restoring trust and also advancing equity across our parks that will bring empowerment to our neighborhoods,” Hamilton said.

“As a South Side native — and as the mother of teenaged girls — I know first-hand the critical importance of our parks, the role that our programs play within our communities to strengthen our communities. I also know that our parks serve as safe havens for so many young people — especially those living in our most marginalized communities.”

Myetie Hamilton, president of the Chicago Park District board of commissioners.

Myetie Hamilton, president of the Chicago Park District board of commissioners.

Chicago Park District

Hamilton, vice president and executive director of City Year Chicago, said one of her “core values” is “service to a cause greater than self. ... I answer this call enthusiastically and I am ready to serve.”

Though one of the park board’s newest members, Hamilton’s long history at CPS makes her a natural choice to replace LaVelle.

But that history also includes a stint as deputy chief of staff to Bennett, the disgraced former schools CEO.

Nearly two years ago, Byrd-Bennettleft a minimum-security prison camp in West Virginia, having served just shy of three years for her role in a brazen kickback scheme that did serious damage to CPS’ reputation and bottom line — and added another classic line to the lexicon of Chicago corruption with her emailed quip, “I have tuition to pay and casinos to visit (:”

She steered $22.5 million in no-bid contracts to consultants who had once employed her. In return, she expected hundreds of thousands of dollars in kickbacks — but never saw a dime.

Though sentenced to four-and-a-half years, Byrd-Bennett was released in May 2020 under a Justice Department policy aimed at releasing non-violent offenders at risk of getting the coronavirus.

According to Hamilton’s LinkedIn profile, she started working for CPS in 1999, always on the operations side of running the school district as opposed to in its classrooms.

With Byrd-Bennett’s direct intervention, Hamilton attended training for school leaders at the SUPES Academy, one of the companies at the heart of the scandal.

“I can’t thank you enough for your support and I am truly excited about the professional development that I will receive through SUPES,” she wrote in an email to the CEO in 2013.

• Also on Wednesday, the Park Board voted to name Gately Park Track and Field Center in honor of the late activist, educator and local track advocate, Dr. Conrad Worrill.

Worrill died on on June 3, 2020. He was a high school track star who advocated for the facility in the firm belief that athletic opportunities enhance academic achievement, and that those programs and facilities pave the way for inner city kids whose families might otherwise be unable to afford college tuition to qualify for athletic scholarships.

• Shortly after the Park Board meeting, the Council’s Committee on Special Events, Parks and Recreation approved the mayor’s appointment of former Chicago Public Library Commissioner Andrea Telli to take LaVelle’s seat on the Park District Board.

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