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New parks leadership orchestrated a culture change

Evanston beach lifeguards receive training ahead of the 2022 summer season. Credit: Audrey Thompson

Editor’s note: This is the first article in a two-part series exploring a transformative summer for Evanston’s lakefront and the historical context behind the changes that occurred. This first part of the story explores the new Parks and Recreation leadership and the changes made to the lifeguard program. The next installment will examine the history of discriminatory policies restricting beach access in Evanston.

The three had colleagues had never opened beaches for the summer season before, let alone hired and trained dozens of lifeguards responsible for public safety at Evanston’s lakefront.

But Audrey Thompson, Michael Callahan and Tim Carter found themselves tasked with that job in April.

The team took over the department less than two months after an independent law firm released a scathing report detailing a workplace culture of sexism, abuse and harassment among Evanston’s seasonal lakefront employees.

The firm determined that high-ranking city officials failed to properly investigate allegations of sexual harassment and abuse among seasonal lakefront employees. It led to a complete overhaul of the city’s Parks and Recreation Department and new training protocols for summer lifeguards.

All of the city staffers who led the recreational programs and the lakefront during the scandalous period were gone.

  • Former Human Resources Chief Jennifer Lin signed a separation agreement in September 2021,
  • former Parks and Recreation Director Lawrence Hemingway resigned in February and many of their top assistants left, too. 

In April, then-Interim City Manager Kelley Gandurski entrusted a department rebuild to Thompson, the community services manager; Callahan, an arborist and forestry supervisor; and Carter, the program coordinator for the Levy Senior Center.

Thompson was appointed the new Parks and Recreation director with Callahan as assistant director, while Carter has the title of lakefront manager. Together, they have 20 years of experience working for the City of Evanston.

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