New Office will ensure a safe and respectful recreational and work environment for everyone at the Park District; Office’s creation comes as Park District continues to act on all recommendations from the OIG investigation
Today, Chicago Park District Interim General Superintendent and CEO Rosa Escareño introduced legislation to create the Office of Prevention and Accountability. This Office, the first-of-its-kind at the Park District, will be empowered to prevent misconduct and hold wrongdoers accountable through fair, independent and thorough investigations into allegations of misconduct. The introduction of these Park District Code amendments, which will be open for public comment for 45 days, is part of the Park District’s renewed commitment to transparency, safety and accountability for its workforce and patrons. Superintendent Escareño demonstrated that commitment by immediately following all disciplinary recommendations from the Chicago Park District Office of the Inspector General’s (OIG) investigation into misconduct in the Aquatics Department, including those outlined in the 2021 Annual Report that was also released today.
“We are facing a critical moment at the Chicago Park District, and we must take this opportunity to do everything in our power to build a safer and more respectful work environment for all our employees and patrons,” said Superintendent Escareño. “I ask the public to provide input into this process as we create the Office of Prevention and Accountability and establish a strong workplace that protects the most important assets of the Chicago Park District – our employees and the patrons who place their trust in us every day.”
Through the proposal introduced at today’s Board of Commissioners meeting, the Office of Prevention and Accountability will be established to ensure the Park District meets its obligation to provide an equitable, inclusive, safe and respectful work and recreation environment. Led by a Director and staffed by three newly created investigator positions, the Office will have broad authority to conduct investigations into alleged violations of the Park District’s Human Rights Ordinance, including claims of discrimination, harassment, sexual harassment, sexual misconduct, workplace violence, abuse and neglect of children or vulnerable adults and retaliation. This signals a new commitment to accountability at the Park District and will ensure that all complaints of misconduct are handled swiftly, comprehensively and fairly.
After completing investigations, the Office of Prevention and Accountability will recommend disciplinary action to be taken by the Superintendent, up to and including termination. In order to ensure the highest level of transparency and independence, the new Office will be required to submit quarterly reports to the Superintendent and the Board of Commissioners, and those reports will be made public. Furthermore, the Superintendent, Board members and the District’s executive staff will be subject to investigation by the Inspector General for any attempt to interfere with investigations conducted by this new Office.
With the establishment of the Office of Prevention and Accountability, all employees and patrons will have a clearly dedicated place to report misconduct. The Director will have the authority and autonomy to independently conduct investigations, hold wrongdoers accountable and bring transparency to the process. In addition to conducting investigations, the Office will also be responsible for the development and implementation of related Park District policies and will recommend training tailored to prevent misconduct. In addition, the Office will be expected to develop and maintain relationships with community partners and stakeholders and regularly convene experts in an advisory group. This will ensure that the Office regularly obtains feedback and stays well-informed on best practices into the future.
“In every workplace, employees must have a fair, independent advocate working to keep them safe and protected,” said Erin Walton, Executive Director of Resilience. “We applaud the Chicago Park District for committing to creating this Office and we look forward to continuing to work with the District to develop the Office of Prevention and Accountability and make it a success.”
Also today, the OIG released its 2021 Annual Report, which included an update on the investigations into misconduct within the Aquatics Department. As indicated in the report, the OIG has investigated and reported findings on 48 allegations of misconduct in this investigation. In every instance where allegations were deemed sustained, the Park District has followed the OIG’s recommendations and taken appropriate disciplinary action. Since the beginning of the OIG investigation, 15 employees have been terminated, resigned while under investigation or were asked to resign due to violations uncovered in the ongoing OIG Investigation and/or the Arnold and Porter report released in November.
Once the Office of Prevention Accountability is established, investigations of violations of the Human Rights chapter of the Park District Code will be handled by this new Office rather than the OIG, which will continue to focus on allegations of fraud, waste, abuse and other illegal or unethical activity. The new Office will conduct investigations with staff specifically trained to handle allegations of sexual misconduct and other activity prohibited by the Human Rights provisions of the Code.
“The Office of the Inspector General is committed to ensuring transparency and accountability at the Park District, and we are working diligently to complete the investigation of misconduct at the Aquatics Department,” said Alison Person, Interim Inspector General. “The 2021 Annual Report details the extensive investigation of these allegations and we look forward to continuing to work with the Board of Commissioners and Park District management to hold wrongdoers accountable and ensure the highest level of accountability moving forward.”
The creation of the Office of Prevention and Accountability is just one part of the Park District’s efforts to rebuild trust with employees and members of the public and to build an agency grounded in transparency, accountability and safety. As part of that work, over the past month, Superintendent Escareño has held several in-person and virtual roundtables discussions with supervisors, current and previous Aquatics employees as well as parents of current and prospective lifeguards. Additionally, earlier this month, the Aquatics Department completed the first-ever Aquatics Conference. This intensive two-week session included over 30 virtual trainings and team-building exercises designed to give the Aquatics team the tools they need to better serve Chicago’s residents.
The proposed Code Amendments will be available for public comment after today’s Board Meeting on the Park District’s Website.