A key post for Chicago music: Park District to get a new chief

June 2, 2011

As this blog noted a few weeks ago when considering some of the key decisions that Mayor Rahm Emanuel soon will make affecting the Chicago music scene, the person running the Park District is high atop that list.

The head of this powerful department not only gives the yea or nay to major music festivals on public lands—including Lollapalooza, which has a long-term deal with the city negotiated by Mayor Daley’s nephew that sorely needs to be reexamined for illegally shortchanging a cash-strapped city of amusement taxes—but he or she also will soon oversee the decision about which company gets to run the permanent concert facility on Northerly Island, and, at least for the moment, is newly in charge of running Taste of Chicago, after Daley flip-flopped on the plan to privatize the big city music fests on his way out the door.

A few days ago, in the wake of a scandalous story of profligate spending by Parks chief Tim Mitchell’s closest aide in the department broken by Fox News Chicago and the Better Government Association, Mitchell released a statement saying that after more than seven years at the helm of one of the biggest park systems in the U.S., he will resign in the middle of this month.

Here’s how Fox covered it, and here is the news in the Trib and the Sun-Times—sans any nods to the Fox/BGA scoop. Sheesh, such pedestrian journalistic territoriality!

There has been no word yet from the Emanuel administration about who will land Mitchell’s job, and it’s a plum one—as well as being more than a little problematic. The primary contender for the Northerly Island concert venue is Ticketmaster/Live Nation, and Rahm’s brother Ari sits on that company’s board of directors. The Hollywood super-agent also runs William Morris Endeavor, which happens to own 50 percent of Lollapalooza.

The new mayor has pledged hands-off all city dealings with either entity to avoid charges of conflict of interest. But will the new Park District Superintendent really have the cojones to buck those companies, if that’s what he or she deems best for Chicago and its music scene?

It certainly will be fun watching it all play out.