Lightfoot Taps Veteran Librarian to Join Chicago Park District Board Amid Sex Abuse Scandal

Fallout from a scandal within the Park District’s aquatics division continues to reverberate. (Patty Wetli / WTTW News)Fallout from a scandal within the Park District’s aquatics division continues to reverberate. (Patty Wetli / WTTW News)

Mayor Lori Lightfoot has tapped a veteran librarian who retired as head of the Chicago Public Library in July 2020 to join the Chicago Park District board as it attempts to recover from the revelation that the agency’s leadership failed to investigate dozens of complaints of lifeguard abuse, assault and harassment at Chicago’s pools and beaches.

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If confirmed by the Chicago City Council, Andrea Telli would be the first person to join the Chicago Park District Board of Commissioners after a scandal ousted the district’s commissioner, board president, chief programs officer, assistant director of recreation and the manager of the park district’s beaches and pools unit.

Telli worked for the Chicago Public Library for 30 years, serving in the top job from May 2019 to July 2020.

The seven-member park district board has been without a president since November, when Avis LaVelle resigned under fire amid the scandal. Lightfoot has yet to pick a new president for the board, although Telli will take the seat left vacant by LaVelle’s resignation.

Interim parks Supt. Rosa Escareño has led the agency since October, and pledged to help the district emerge from the scandal.

Escareño took over the scandal-plagued agency after Lightfoot forced out former parks Supt. Mike Kelly. A probe by the park district’s watchdog found Kelly waited six months after getting the first complaint of abuse to forward it to the district’s watchdog. Kelly only acted after the mayor’s office sent him a complaint from a second girl alleging she was abused, according to the watchdog's probe.

The former head of the city’s Department of Business Affairs and Consumer Protection, Escareño’s contract with the Chicago Park District was extended until April by the park district’s board of commissioners on Jan. 26.

Telli’s nomination is set to be considered by the City Council’s Special Events, Cultural Affairs and Recreation Committee on Feb. 16. A final vote could come at the City Council meeting on Feb. 23.

Telli will “be a phenomenal addition to the Chicago Park District bringing more than three decades of experience and deep knowledge working with young people,” according to a statement from Lightfoot’s office.

“Mayor Lightfoot trusts the years of experience and skills Telli brings to the board which will help rebuild the foundation and mend relationships between the Park District and Chicagoans across the city,” according to the mayor’s office. 

The search for a permanent superintendent and a permanent board president are ongoing, according to a spokesperson for Lightfoot.

Interim Inspector General Alison Perona told the board on Jan. 26 that her probe found evidence to support allegations of abuse or assault contained in 29 of 48 complaints filed with the park district. Fifteen employees have been fired, resigned or were asked to resign in connection with those complaints, Perona said.

In the wake of the scandal, the park district created an Office of Prevention and Accountability to handle similar complaints, officials said.

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. 

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

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