Chicago Park District officials to spend at least $ 617,139 and hire five investigators for a new unit to prevent and investigate sexual assault and support victims under a budget of $ 510.9 million adopted unanimously on Wednesday.
As district leaders continue to clean up Park District staff and practices following a widespread sexual abuse and assault scandal among city lifeguards, Acting CEO Rosa Escareno also announced that the hiring of lifeguards for next summer would be postponed until “intensive” training is carried out.
“We are delaying the start of the next program, which starts in January. We’re delaying it for a few weeks – taking two weeks to do a really intense aquatics division workout. This is just one example of how we are re-examining what the organization has done in terms of training, ”said Escareno.
“When we talk about prevention and accountability, it’s because we mean it. Our job is to prevent that from ever happening. And when that happens, people will be held accountable. … This training does not absolve individuals of that. … [But] If you don’t train your staff properly, if they don’t know the rules of the road and don’t understand the consequences they will face, then all of this will be for naught.
The new Prevention and Accountability Office was announced by former Park District Superintendent Mike Kelly before Mayor Lori Lightfoot kicked it out.
The precise credentials and budget of the new office were not known – even after Escareno unveiled the $ 510.9 million budget last month.
Escareno told the board on Wednesday that the $ 617,139 office will be staffed at least initially with a team of five. This includes: a director, a principal investigator, two other investigators and a “case admissions specialist”. The budget does not include funding for training, which will come from elsewhere in the Park District budget, she said.
“We are at a pivotal moment in the Chicago Park District and we have a responsibility to rise to the occasion and make the real, long-term changes that this moment demands,” Escareno told the Board of Directors. .
Calling the budget of $ 617,139 per year a “first step,” Escareno said she plans to return to the board next month to seek approval of “Chicago Park district code changes that will fully empower “the new office” to prevent wrongdoing and hold offenders accountable through independent, impartial and thorough investigations.
“The code changes will also give the office… the responsibility of coordinating access to support services, helping to develop training, implementing new park district policies… and scheduling the appointment of the director of the park. new office by the superintendent with the advice and consent of the board, ”she said.
Well aware that Kelly and former board chairwoman Avis LaVelle had kept the park’s board members in the dark about the lifeguard scandal, Escareno said to conduct investigations independently.
Members of the park’s board of directors were not lazy about spending the money on the new office. In fact, said Modesto Valle, a newly appointed board member: “I wonder if this is enough money. … Have we done salary benchmarking to make sure we are attracting the best for these positions? “
Escareno described the budget as a “starting point,” adding: “I’m not going to be shy. … If this office feels it needs more resources in the first year, that will be a priority. We will return. We will ask for additional resources.
Wednesday’s board meeting was the first chaired by interim park board chair Tim King. Urban Prep School founder and CEO King stepped up her efforts after LaVelle was forced out for her mismanagement of sexual misconduct among lifeguards at city pools and beaches.
Currently, complaints of sexual abuse by employees are supposed to be reported to the parks human resources department or to the district inspector general’s office. But that didn’t always happen, as it was revealed earlier this year, when the Chicago Sun-Times reported what an independent investigator would confirm later: Weeks before sending it to the channel – and only after a second rescuer sent a more damning complaint to the mayor’s office.
Kelly was forced to resign and three senior associates were fired in disciplinary proceedings that Escareno promised to continue.
As for the budget of $ 510.9 million, which does not increase fees on the parks district programs, it includes a rare property tax increase of $ 4.3 million, which is roughly $ 4. more per year for the average homeowner, as the park district restores its programs to a previous level. – pandemic levels.