(RoundTable file photo)

Evanston City Council Members are scheduled to meet in a special executive session at 6 p.m. tonight, Saturday, July 17, to discuss a story reporting allegations of “rampant sexual misconduct” by the City’s beach staff over a period of several years, in a complaint brought last year by more than 50 female lifeguards and beach employees.

The story, aired by public radio station WBEZ, said the employees alleged in a petition to the City last year that their co-workers engaged in such misconduct. The employees said the concerns listed in the petition were not answered.

The WBEZ story reported that in July 2020, 56 women who have worked at the lakefront signed the petition within a few days.

No names were used in the story that quoted women anonymously relating their experiences.

Written by WBEZ’s Dan Mihalopoulos, the story reported that the women say they called on the City to apologize for the “blatant sexism, sexual harassment, assault, racism, and discrimination that occurs at the lakefront,” as they alleged in their petition.

The story alleged that misconduct that had occurred over several years, including sexual harassment and the rape of a then 18-year-old female lifeguard by an older employee in a managerial role.

Mayor Biss and Alderperson Fleming statements

Several Evanston officials have issued statements in response to the report.

In an email to the RoundTable, Mayor Daniel Biss wrote, “as soon as I heard the horrifying allegations about sexual misconduct at the Evanston lakefront, I began to investigate the situation to understand the City’s past and current response.

“I can’t assess our actions until all of my questions are answered to my satisfaction, but I can say this: We have a profound moral responsibility to do everything in our power to make the lakefront safe, and any response less than that is completely unacceptable.

“I am enormously grateful to the brave young women who brought these concerns forward. We must do right by them,” the Mayor’s response concluded.

Council Member Cicely Fleming, 9th Ward, said she will be demanding full accountability from officials in the session.

On July 16, she wrote, “Though I was on the Council when the complaints were made to management and HR, council was never made aware. NEVER,” she wrote. 

“We will be having an Emergency Executive Session [July 17] at 6 p.m. to have a full explanation of what took place, and I will be asking for full staff accountability and terminations.

“As I’ve communicated previously, I (regrettably) do not have [Human Resources] authority except for the City Manager; however, I have an obligation to ensure that our staff have a safe workplace. That is not happening, and for that I take responsibility; even if it’s a year late.

“I applaud the bravery of the staff who brought this issue to light and personally apologize that they’ve had to go to the press in search of validation and remedy.

“(Please note that when the WBEZ article refers to “city officials” it is speaking about staff. To my knowledge, no elected officials had knowledge of this issue nor were we ever briefed as a group by the city manager.),” Ms. Fleming’s statement continued.

On July 16, the City of Evanston released a statement in response to the WBEZ story. The full statement, posted on the RoundTable‘s site on July 16, is available here.

Bob Seidenberg

Bob Seidenberg is an award-winning reporter covering issues in Evanston for more than 30 years. He is a graduate of the Northwestern University Medill School of Journalism.