Greising: The Chicago Park District Lifeguard Scandal. A Slow-Motion Disaster.

A scandal at the Chicago Park District involving lifeguards and allegations of sexual harassment has unspooled like a slow-motion disaster.

Chicago Park District Superintendent and CEO Michael Kelly attends a press conference at the Corps' Northerly Island Ecosystem Restoration Project site, Chicago, June 17, 2014. (U.S. Army Photo by Sarah Gross/Released)

BGA President David Greising writes every other week for the Chicago Tribune Opinion section.

The charges of sexual harassment of lifeguards and other aquatics employees at the Chicago Park District, and signs of serious government mishandling of the matter, have unspooled like a slow-motion disaster.

In February 2020, Park District Superintendent Michael Kelly first received an emailed abuse complaint from a former employee. He promptly pressed reply, thanking the alleged victim for bringing the problem to light. He said he’d get right on it.

Kelly waited six weeks before referring the matter to the Park District’s inspector general. The referral came just two days after Mayor Lori Lightfoot forwarded a separate harassment complaint, made to the mayor’s office. Kelly’s timing was no coincidence.

The Park District inspector general at the time, Will Fletcher, began investigating. But resources were limited, and just two investigators took on the case. Even so, Deputy Inspector General Nathan Kipp made good progress. Too good, Kipp now says. He was suspended abruptly without pay or public explanation, Kipp alleges.

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Image used: "Northerly Island Press Conference" (CC BY-NC 2.0) by usacechicago. Image and caption have been modified from the original.