Politics

The previous Chicago parks chief blamed political strain for her exit

When longtime Metropolis Corridor insider Avis LaVelle declared her resignation as Chicago Park District board president final 12 months, she claimed she was “deeply sorry for the society of abuse and harassment that was authorized to fester” at community seashores and swimming pools throughout the metropolis.

“I get accountability simply because it arrived to gentle on my observe,” LaVelle claimed at the close of a board conference that was broadcast on the net in November.

But LaVelle experienced a quite various concept just minutes previously — in a element of the parks board conference when no one was authorized obtain besides for board associates and prime company directors.

“I am an additional head on a pike in the community sq.,” claimed LaVelle, who was a prime aide to previous Mayor Richard M. Daley.

In non-public, LaVelle advised that she was a scapegoat who experienced to get the drop for the mayor, describing herself as an additional sufferer of types in a scandal that integrated accusations of sexual harassment, abuse or assault from dozens of youthful, feminine lifeguards.

In a freshly introduced online video recording of the shut-doorway conference final 12 months, LaVelle instructed the other parks board commissioners that she at first prepared to stay as president by the close of the 12 months, but she made the decision to give up in early November rather — out of a motivation to ease the strain of the scandal for Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot.

“I do not consider she would like me to be the albatross close to her neck for an additional 6 months,” LaVelle claimed of Lightfoot. “Because they are utilizing me as a adhere to defeat her. And so, this has to close.”

LaVelle did not react to a number of cell phone and e-mail messages trying to get remark for this tale. Aides to the mayor declined to remark Tuesday.

But LaVelle’s impassioned statements in the freshly introduced recordings now present new perception on a scandal that prompted effusive apologies from the mayor and other prime officers and led to significant-amount resignations and firings at the park district headquarters.

The allegations from the lifeguards arrived into community watch far more than 6 months ahead of LaVelle’s resignation, when WBEZ disclosed an inside park district probe that experienced languished in mystery for far more than a 12 months, in spite of prevalent, major allegations in the Aquatics Office.

The Prepare dinner County state’s lawyer, Kim Foxx, opened up an investigation into the park district in August, and the agency’s inspector common and longtime main govt shortly resigned.

But LaVelle, who was a prime spokeswoman for previous Mayor Richard M. Daley, held on to her function as president of the parks board even right after a report by an exterior counsel blasted the park district’s managing of the subject.

LaVelle experienced been appointed to the board by then-Mayor Rahm Emanuel in 2011, and he elevated her to president of the board in February 2019, soon ahead of Lightfoot was elected to do well him.

LaVelle experienced each and every cause to imagine no one but prime park district officers would at any time listen to her feedback to them soon ahead of her community resignation announcement in November. The park district board experienced voted to maintain that element of the conference non-public.

But previously this 12 months, a resident of Chicago disputed the conclusion to shut the conference. LaVelle’s successor as parks board president acknowledged it certainly experienced been erroneous to shut the conference and quietly introduced 27 minutes of earlier hid recordings from the Nov. ten session.

LaVelle’s “mic drop” minute at her final board conference

For a lot of that shut conference, LaVelle defended her steps in the scandal staunchly, suggesting she experienced been unfairly criticized for a issue that plagued the workforce at the city’s community seashores and swimming pools for generations. She claimed unspecified media protection of the scandal experienced afflicted her individually and deeply — and prompted her to depart when she did.

At the commence of her remarks in the shut session, she claimed the cause she was “trying to just transfer out the doorway is simply because of the relentless, hostile media notice that I have been subjected to more than the final numerous months.”

A handful of minutes later on, she included: “It shook me to my main to be the concentrate of so a lot damaging media notice and so a lot hostility. And everybody’s so necessarily mean suitable now, you know. It is a complete whole lot of meanness, and it was quite particular, and a whole lot of it nevertheless is.”

LaVelle did not say what media protection she was referring to in individuals remarks and she did not react to a number of messages trying to get remark for this tale.

But final drop, months ahead of she remaining the park district board, she questioned no matter whether it was good for the WBEZ’s tales about the scandal to make point out of the clientele of her non-public community-relations business. LaVelle started out the business right after leaving the Daley administration, and her clientele have integrated the organization that operates Chicago’s parking meter technique below a controversial 2008 privatization offer and other non-public entities with worthwhile passions at Metropolis Corridor.

“As to your recurring references to clientele for whom I at present or previously labored, I do not realize what any of that has to do with this [Chicago Park District] tale?” LaVelle wrote in an e-mail reaction to queries from WBEZ on Oct. 26.

Soon ahead of LaVelle resigned, WBEZ noted that she experienced tried unsuccessfully to converse with Foxx on the working day the station noted that the state’s lawyer experienced been questioned to open up an investigation into the park district’s managing of the subject.

A spokeswoman for Foxx claimed Tuesday the prosecutors’ probe into accusations of community corruption in the park district’s managing of the scandal was ongoing.

In the shut-doorway session when she stepped down in November, LaVelle instructed fellow park district commissioners she was hoping to spare not only Lightfoot but also herself from ongoing media scrutiny. She expressed hope that the community strain mostly would dissipate ahead of the holiday seasons.

“I consider to the extent that I remain listed here, that is the for a longer time it normally takes for it to subside,” LaVelle claimed. “It is my honest hope that by the time I get to the close of the 12 months, perhaps some of this ridiculous will be more than. I do not consider I want to do my holiday seasons with this a lot craziness hanging close to my head.”

LaVelle claimed she experienced not recognised about troubles in just the park district that emerged throughout the scandal.

“I want all of you to know that hindsight is twenty/twenty,” she claimed. “I would surely have carried out points greater, and surely have carried out points in another way if I experienced experienced the profit of being aware of how dysfunctional and how inefficiently we have been set collectively to be ready to deal with this.”

LaVelle shut her remarks by predicting that the scandal would carry required variations to the park district and declaring her tenure as president a resounding results deserving of a proverbial mic fall — while she acknowledged that some folks did not see points that way.

“The folks who know me know me, and the other folks — they will consider no matter what they want to consider and I could hardly ever dissuade them from that in any case,” she claimed, devoid of naming any critics.

“I’m seriously Alright now. I seriously am. So, thank you most people. Let us go out listed here. Enable me fall the mic and go.”

“You are in no way culpable”

Some of the other parks board commissioners — who are appointed by the mayor with the acceptance of the Metropolis Council — expressed sympathy for LaVelle and bemoaned that the situations of the scandal precluded them from publicly praising her tenure with the park district, in accordance to the online video of the shut conference.

The loudest aid for LaVelle and strongest denunciation of her critics arrived from the park district board’s vice president at the time, Tim King.

He claimed LaVelle experienced carried out a “tremendous” and “unparalleled” work as parks board president.

“I know you are in no way culpable for any of the things that took place,” claimed King, who is the founder and CEO of the City Prep Academies, a constitution-university community.

King also claimed only “some folks who are ignorant and do not understand” will consider she was at fault for the lifeguard scandal.

King, who did not return messages trying to get remark, did not say which critics he was referring to in his remarks at the November board conference. He resigned from the parks board on Feb. 27, officers claimed.

Ald. Scott Waguespack, thirty second Ward, was amid 8 Metropolis Council associates who experienced named for LaVelle’s resignation final 12 months and he viewed the freshly introduced online video of the parks board’s shut session in November.

“The only ignorant folks I can see are individuals who tried out to protect it up — and nevertheless tried out to, even on the way out,” Waguespack claimed.

Park District officers have claimed they are instituting reforms to keep away from a repeat of the scandal.

Waguespack claimed he was not nevertheless persuaded that would get the job done.

“Some folks have been fired, but it does not necessarily mean the society is heading to improve right away,” he claimed. “You also need to have the management to deliver a concept as properly, that this can no for a longer time be tolerated.”

When LaVelle remaining the park district, some board associates claimed they hoped to privately toss a celebration to rejoice her tenure.

“We can surely do a little something off-campus and Avis warrants nothing at all much less,” Donald Edwards, a non-public-fairness govt, claimed in the shut session. “We will do that simply because Avis does ought to have to be celebrated.”

An additional parks board member, Jose Muñoz, instructed LaVelle, “I truly feel awful that right after this sort of a very long tenure, all the challenging get the job done, every thing that you have set into this element, that we just cannot rejoice you the way you ought to have to be celebrated … If there is an prospect to rejoice you exterior of listed here, you know I’d be down for it.”

In an e-mail to WBEZ, the secretary for the parks board claimed Tuesday that “no this sort of gathering” for LaVelle at any time happened.

Edwards did not return messages and Muñoz, who potential customers the La Casa Norte social-provider company, declined to elaborate on his feedback at the shut board conference, composing in an e-mail Tuesday that, “I have not been in make contact with with Ms. LaVelle considering that the board conference you referenced. I do not consider I have something to incorporate.”

A Chicagoan battling for govt transparency

At the Nov. ten conference, the park district board went into shut session by citing an exemption to the state’s Open up Conferences Act that makes it possible for community bodies to examine staff issues out of community watch.

In the minutes from that conference, park district officers claimed board associates “discussed different staff issues and the resignation of Avis LaVelle as Board President of the Chicago Park District … President LaVelle gave remarks on her tenure at the Chicago Park District and her hopes for the District shifting ahead.”

But in February, Edgar Pal — a Chicago resident who has been an activist for open up community data and conferences in the metropolis and suburbs — appealed the conclusion to the Illinois lawyer general’s business. That business mediates transparency disputes among govt officers and the community.

Pal argued that the park district experienced violated Illinois regulation, composing that “it was incorrect for the Board to examine the resignation of its president, Avis LaVelle, in shut session.”

Pal wrote that the exemption to the open up-conferences regulation cited by the park district makes it possible for the board to shut out the community “for the dialogue of only precise staff members, impartial contractors, or volunteers.”

When confronted by the lawyer general’s business, the park district agreed to launch pieces of the online video from the conference and posted that recording on its site.

“Upon overview, we understood our blunder, and concur that the Board of Commissioners erred in talking about the subject matter subject,” the new board president at the park district, Myetie Hamilton, wrote in a letter to the lawyer general’s business on April eight.

Pal contends that it was not ample for officers to launch 27 minutes of the recording from the conference, and he claimed the park district must make community the complete shut session.

Pal instructed WBEZ he has no relationship to the lifeguard scandal or to the park district, other than becoming a patron of the city’s parks and recreation amenities.

“I’m just fascinated in transparency in common,” he claimed. “I want govt to do its work.”

In a assertion Tuesday, a spokeswoman for park district officers claimed it stays their placement that they do not have to launch any further more videotape of the Nov. ten conference.

Dan Mihalopoulos is an investigative reporter on WBEZ’s Federal government &amp Politics Workforce. Abide by him on Twitter @dmihalopoulos.

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