Seven months after Mayor Lori Lightfoot ousted former Chicago Park District Superintendent Mike Kelly for mishandling complaints from girls and young women working at Chicago’s beaches and pools who were being abused, assaulted and harassed, Chicago’s parks have a permanent leader.
Rosa Escareño, who served as the agency’s interim superintendent since October, became the permanent leader Wednesday. Escareño planned to retire in July as commissioner of the Department of Business Affairs and Consumer Protection after 30 years with the city, but agreed to lead the beleaguered Chicago Park District after Kelly’s ouster.
Escareño said she was humbled and excited to lead the Park District in a permanent role.
“The work we do to improve lives through recreational interests, and grow healthy environments for our workers and residents, is vital to strengthening every community and building up Chicago’s future generations,” Escareño said.
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.
A separate probe conducted by the Chicago Park District’s Board of Commissioners found Kelly waited six months after the first complaint of abuse allegations to forward it to the district’s watchdog — and only did so after the mayor’s office sent him a complaint from a second girl alleging she was abused.
The scandal forced former board President Avis Lavelle to resign in November.
LaVelle was replaced by Myetie Hamilton, who said Escareño will help the Park District “continue the momentum in turning a new chapter with a commitment to transparency, safety, inclusion and accountability to our workforce, families and communities.”
Escareño will be paid $230,000 annually to lead the Chicago Park District, the same amount as Kelly.
Lightfoot praised Escareño’s appointment in a statement released by her office.
“Superintendent Escareño knows that our parks are a vital lifeline for our residents as well as the jewel of most communities, and that she must focus on making key investments in our South and West side parks in particular,” Lightfoot said. “I am confident Superintendent Escareño will continue to provide critical and much-needed leadership and services to all our residents across the 600 Chicago parks.”
After the scandal, Escareño created the Office of Prevention and Accountability, which has a $600,000 budget and is charged with preventing misconduct and investigating allegations of misconduct by park employees and patrons.
Two former Chicago Park District pool supervisors have been charged with sex crimes that came to light after WBEZ first reported the allegations.
Note: This story was originally published May 11. Ithas been updated to include our “Chicago Tonight” conversation.