Chicago Parks Board President Avis LaVelle Resigns Under Fire Amid Abuse Scandal

Video: Chicago Park District board president is resigning under fire. Our Spotlight Politics team on that and much more. (Produced by Alex Silets)

The president of the Chicago Park District Board of Commissioners resigned Wednesday under fire for the way she handled complaints from girls and young women working at Chicago’s beaches and pools that they were abused, assaulted and harassed.

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Avis LaVelle, who was a top aide to former Mayor Richard M. Daley, told reporters eight days ago that she would not resign, and blamed ousted Superintendent Mike Kelly for failing to investigate the allegations for nearly six months.

LaVelle, who was appointed to the board in 2011 by former Mayor Rahm Emanuel picked by him to serve as president in 2019, said in a statement that she was “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.”

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

A spokesperson for the mayor declined to confirm LaVelle's statements. Lightfoot allowed laVelle to stay on as president of the parks board for more than two years.

“I thank Ms. LaVelle for her decades-long service to the City of Chicago,” Lightfoot said in a statement.

Board Vice President Tim King, the founder and CEO of the Urban Prep charter schools, will serve as interim president of the Park District board while a search for LaVelle’s replacement is conducted, Lightfoot said.

“I have full confidence in the Chicago Park District Board’s ability to move forward,” Lightfoot said.

While LaVelle said Wednesday she “operated with fairness, honesty and integrity” while a member of the Chicago Parks Board, she said Nov. 2 she should not have trusted Kelly to handle the complaints and that “mistakes were made.”

The Park District’s watchdog reports to the board’s president, and LaVelle expressed regret that she did not more closely oversee the probe.

“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,” LaVelle said Wednesday. “If you know me, then you know that’s how I have lived my life publicly and privately.”

Although LaVelle’s statement announcing her resignation used the word “integrity” four times, it did not mention the girls and young women who were abused, harassed and assaulted and were ignored when they complained.

“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,” LaVelle said, without specifying who was responsible for that conduct or for allowing it to continue unchecked.

Lightfoot said Friday the Chicago Park District’s “brand” had been “hurt” by the scandal.

But the mayor did not call for LaVelle to step down, telling reporters that she expected the clout-heavy communications consultant to make an announcement “soon.” Lightfoot praised LaVelle for giving “a lot of service to this city over decades” and said it had been a “very trying time for [LaVelle] personally, professionally, and very difficult on her family.”

An investigation from the Park District’s acting inspector general found at least four lifeguards abused, assaulted and harassed girls at Chicago’s pools and beaches between 2015 and 2020. 

Under pressure from Lightfoot, Chicago Park District Superintendent Mike Kelly resigned Oct. 10 and was replaced on an interim basis by Rosa Escareño, who retired in July as commissioner of the Department of Business Affairs and Consumer Protection after 30 years with the city. 

The management of the Chicago Park District failed to protect its employees, said Escareño, adding that she “was stunned and horrified” by the results of the probes. 

Eight members of the Chicago City Council had called for LaVelle to step down, saying she did not do enough to protect the girls and young women who worked for the Chicago Park District.

WBEZ was the first to report the city had received dozens of complaints of sexual misconduct against lifeguards — some of them girls — going back decades. 

The probe remains ongoing, Chicago Park District officials said.

State’s Attorney Kim Foxx is investigating allegations of criminal sexual conduct.

Contact Heather Cherone: @HeatherCherone | (773) 569-1863 | [email protected]

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