Councilmembers release formal apology addressing lakefront sexual harassment claims


Daily file photo by Nick Francis

Mayor Daniel Biss. Biss read a formal apology Monday night addressing the city’s response to allegations of abuse among lakefront staff.

Jorja Siemons, Assistant City Editor

Mayor Daniel Biss read a formal apology Monday night on behalf of City Council regarding the city’s response to allegations of sexual harassment and abuse among lakefront staff. 

“We are committed to preventing the sexism, sexual harassment, assault, racism and discrimination you experienced,” Biss said. “We apologize for workplace culture, the law of sexual harassment to occur, and we’re sorry that you had to experience oppressive, uncomfortable and dangerous behavior.”

The apology comes more than a year after more than 50 employees sent a petition to the city detailing allegations of abuse toward lakefront employees, who were primarily underage girls. A July WBEZ investigation made this information public, prompting the suspension of Head of Human Resources Jennifer Lin.

The investigation contributed to the resignation of previous City Manager Erika Storlie and inspired backlash regarding Interim City Manager Kelley Gandurski’s appointment, given her alleged involvement in the investigation as well. 

But many residents have continuously called for more action, including an apology from councilmembers. In the past, Ald. Cicely Fleming (9th) said a formal apology was prevented by the city’s corporate legal response, though Ald. Devon Reid (8th) publicly apologized at the July 26 City Council meeting. 

The apology came during a special session of City Council and the memorandum preceding the meeting did not list it as its own agenda item, meaning the public did not know it would be read. There was a lack of resident response to the apology in public comment.

Biss addressed how the apology’s delay may have had its own impact on survivors. 

“When you showed the courage to come forward, you were not treated with the compassion and respect you deserved,” Biss read from the apology. “As these incidents have come to our attention, residents understandably have lost some faith in the ability of their government officials to handle delicate and serious situations. We take responsibility for the situation, and we’ll do everything in our power to right the wrongs moving forward.” 

At the council’s Sept. 20 meeting, in which Gandurski was eventually confirmed as interim city manager, Evanston residents expressed anger regarding the lack of a formal city response. 

“Mayor Biss, the silence is deafening,” resident Trisha Connolly said during public comment at the Sept. 20 meeting. “How much longer are we going to wait for this minimal request for an apology from the city of Evanston for the dismissive treatment of those who were harmed while employed at the beach?”

The city’s apology concluded with a series of steps for officials to confront the culture of sexual harassment. This includes implementing mandatory sexual harassment prevention training for seasonal staff, participants and employees in the mayor’s summer youth employment program. 

The city has also commissioned an independent investigation into the government’s response. The apology states that the city will share investigation outcomes with the public while protecting the identities of survivors. 

After he finished reading the statement, Biss personally thanked Ald. Jonathan Nieuwsma (4th) for his role in shepherding the statement through the hands of councilmembers. Biss also acknowledged Reid, who initially spurred the council to take this action. 

“I want to be very, very, very clear that this letter is not an end by any means of our commitment nor of our intended action,” Biss said. 

Email: [email protected] 

Twitter: @JorjaSiemons 

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