Chicago’s Park District has hired high-priced consultants to deal with its lifeguard abuse scandal

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Struggling with the widening fallout from a sexual misconduct scandal, Chicago Park District officials quietly agreed to spend tens of thousands of dollars to get some short-term assistance from a former Cook County prosecutor, WBEZ has learned.

In August, park district administrators signed a deal with a company led by Bob Milan. He’s a former first assistant Cook County state’s attorney who later was the special prosecutor for new trials in cases involving disgraced Chicago Police Cmdr. Jon Burge.

Milan’s company, Prescient Comply LLC, got a four-month contract to launch what parks officials have touted as a significant new branch of the agency, called the “Office of Protection.” Milan also will rewrite the park district’s policies and procedures for handling sexual harassment and other misconduct, according to records obtained by WBEZ.

In April, WBEZ first reported on a long-running internal investigation into complaints of sexual harassment, abuse and assault against dozens of employees in the park district’s Aquatics Department. The Office of Protection was among the new reform-themed moves announced by embattled parks CEO Michael Kelly as the lifeguard abuse scandal at Chicago’s public beaches and pools has expanded in recent months – attracting the attention of law-enforcement authorities.

The park district’s in-house watchdog had been investigating allegations against dozens of parks employees for more than 17 months. But Inspector General Elaine Little quit in September, amid growing criticism of the probe.

Meanwhile, Cook County State’s Attorney Kim Foxx recently opened her own investigation. Prosecutors are looking into alleged sex crimes and also accusations that park district officials have mishandled the case, according to an Aug. 19 letter from Foxx to Kelly and park Board President Avis LaVelle.

Five days later, after Foxx contacted Kelly and LaVelle, the park district hired Milan’s company, which is based in downtown Chicago.

The agency will pay $425 an hour for the services of Milan, who is listed as the managing director of Prescient Comply. Two other executives from the company also will do work for the park district, for $275 an hour each.

The total estimated budget for the first three parts of the five-phase plan from Prescient Comply was estimated to fall between $25,000 and $40,000, according to the company’s contract with the park district.

The work was supposed to start with 30 interviews of parks employees regarding the creation of the Office of Protection.

Then the consultants promised to “review and rewrite all current policies and procedures regarding workplace harassment, sexual harassment, bullying, discrimination, and workplace misconduct to reflect best practices.”

Finally, Milan’s company “will recommend the number of employees, job requirements, job descriptions, and the Office [of Protection’s] policies and procedures,” according to the contract.

Under the deal, Prescient Comply also would be required to create a case management system and “conduct employee training regarding the new Office of Protection.” For those two phases of the work, the park district would pay the company additional fees that are “TBD” — to be determined.

The park district’s contract with Prescient Comply began on Sept. 1 and runs through the end of the year.

Milan did not respond to requests for comment.

The deal with his company was signed eight days after Kelly, the park’s CEO, announced plans for the new office at a news conference where he vowed to adequately deal with the lifeguard abuse scandal.

Park district leaders again mentioned the Office of Protection in a news release on Wednesday, after a fourth senior lifeguard resigned in response to sexual misconduct accusations.

In the statement, spokeswoman Michele Lemons said the Office of Protection would serve “as an intake point to investigate and assign complaints or concerns related to harassment, bullying and workplace hostility.”

Officials also said the new office was “designed to bring permanent, systemic change” amid the sex abuse scandal involving lifeguards.

“It is expected to be a first-of-its-kind model for park districts across the country,” Lemons said. “Details of the Office of Protection, including its structure and leadership, are expected to be announced later this month.”

Park district leaders have not publicly identified Milan as the consultant who will help set up the Office of Protection. But WBEZ recently obtained his company’s contract through an open records request to the park district.

The company is working as pressure grows on Kelly.

Four City Council members have now called for him to resign from his $230,000-a-year job, which he has held for a decade, over the park district’s handling of the lifeguard abuse scandal.

Kelly received the initial whistleblower complaint from a female former lifeguard in February 2020, and he immediately promised her he would forward her 11-page letter about “extreme abuse” at Oak Street Beach to the park district’s inspector general.

But he didn’t actually do that for another 41 days. And he contacted the inspector general only after another young female ex-lifeguard sent a separate complaint directly to the office of Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot.

Kelly’s conduct also came into question after the initial whistleblower told WBEZ that Kelly contacted her after the station first reported on the scandal in April, telling her that people were “breathing down his neck” once the story published and asking that she “keep him in the loop” about the ostensibly independent internal investigation. Kelly hasn’t denied he made that call, but repeatedly has declined to answer questions about it.

Both of the young women whose whistleblower complaints helped launch the broad investigation into lifeguard sexual abuse have told WBEZ they think Kelly should be fired for bungling the probe.

Kelly and Milan are both from the clout-heavy 19th Ward, on the far Southwest Side of Chicago.

Milan was first assistant under Cook County State’s Attorney Richard Devine. He ran unsuccessfully in the 2008 Democratic primary election to succeed Devine.

In a debate in that campaign, Milan said, “We’ve been painted tonight as racists, the men and women of the Cook County State’s Attorney’s Office. Let me tell you something, we’re not. … We’ve been painted as people that turn a blind eye to police corruption, which is just completely untrue.”

Defense attorneys in the cases involving Burge voiced opposition to Milan’s appointment as special prosecutor, noting that he had defended a detective who worked on tainted cases with Burge, the leader of a cadre of cops who tortured scores of criminal suspects into giving false confessions.

Dan Mihalopoulos is an investigative reporter on WBEZ’s Government & Politics Team. Follow him on Twitter @dmihalopoulos.

via WBEZ Chicago

October 7, 2021 at 07:56PM

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