On Monday, Audrey Thompson was appointed as the city’s interim Director of Parks, Recreation and Community Services. Lawrence Hemingway, the former Director, resigned amid the ongoing investigation into alleged sexual harassment and misconduct among Evanston seasonal lakefront workers.
Hemingway was leading the parks division in July 2020 when he and several other city officials first received a petition signed by more than 50 current and former female lifeguards and beach staff alleging a workplace culture of rampant sexual harassment, racism and discrimination.
The outside law firm investigating the alleged sexual misconduct said Hemingway deserved part of the blame for the handling of the petition, as it was initially brought to him. In 2018, he was the subject of a sexual harassment complaint filed by one of his own employees, leading him to “recuse” himself from handling the lifeguard petition.
The law firm recommended considering disciplinary action against Hemingway, but he resigned just three days before the report came out.
Since January 2020, Thompson has served as the city’s Community Services Manager, overseeing the youth and young adult senior services programs. She has a master’s degree in social work and also serves as an adjunct professor in the Social Work department at Northeastern Illinois University.
Thompson moved to Evanston and began working for the city in 2010. She told the RoundTable in an email interview that her appointment came as a surprise.
“Although I was not expecting to be appointed interim director, I am honored to have the opportunity to serve the Evanston community in this role and to lead the department through this transition,” she said.
Thompson said that as interim director she is committed to building on the progress that has been made as the city implements the recommendations from the law firm that investigated the beachfront scandal.
“We must ensure that all employees feel safe and respected in their work environment,” she said. “I look forward to working with our staff to meet and exceed the recommendations of Salvatore, Prescott, Porter and Porter and restore public trust and confidence in the department. This begins with ensuring that all city employees have a healthy, safe and valuable work experience.”
Salvatore, Prescott, Porter and Porter, the law firm hired by the city to investigate the alleged sexual misconduct in the lifeguard program, recommended a complete overhaul of the way the city runs the lakefront and also urged officials to consider discipline of those responsible for the failures.
The report is 379 pages long and emphasized that the city must take responsibility and make changes to prevent sexual misconduct. Among other things, the report recommends increasing lakefront supervision, revamping how lifeguards are hired and trained and formally prohibiting the use of physical training as discipline.
Thompson said she was sexually abused by a family acquaintance as a child and does not take any type of exploitation lightly.
“It is a serious matter and individuals should feel safe in all environments,” Thompson said. “When they do not feel safe, they should feel comfortable, empowered and support in reporting their discomfort.”
Thompson joins six other acting or interim members of the city: Kelly Gandurski, interim City Manager; Luke Stowe and Dave Stoneback, acting Deputy City Managers; Michael Rivera, acting Director of Administrative Services; Richard Eddington, interim Police Chief; and Edgar Cano, acting Director of Public Works.