Anatomy of a Scandal: Parks Department

Photo courtesy of
‘Green. Very Green.’
courtesy of ‘kimberlyfaye’

Hi there, and welcome to the first of an occasional series called Anatomy of a Scandal. There’s always something to fight about when it comes to DC politics, and that’s just the local stuff, not what happens over at the Capitol. Unlike national politics, though, not every local political adventure has a clear set of sides and players. We’re here to help figure some of this stuff out. First up? Department of Parks and Recreation. It’s been sort of a long drawn out cluster of scandals, and you should probably know some of the people involved.

Dramatis Personae
Adrian Fenty, Mayor of the District of Columbia
Peter Nickles, His Attorney General
Vincent Gray, Chairman of the City Council, rival to Fenty
Kwame Brown, At-Large Councilman
Marion Barry, Hizzoner Emeritus
Ximena Hartsock, Interim/Acting Director of the Department of Parks & Recreation, appointed by Mayor Fenty (twice…)
DC Housing Authority, a quasi-governmental entity
Omar Karim, friend of the Mayor, fraternity brother to Adrian Fenty.

This begins in April of 2009. Mayor Fenty “requests” (by requests, I means demands) that Clark Ray step down from the top of Parks & Rec. Why is a subject of much discussion, and he ends up dishing to Kojo that he got fired in the most unfortunate and undignified manner. It’s a pretty crappy situation, but that’s okay, he’s running for the Council to compete with Phil Mendelson for an At-Large seat.

Enter Ximena Hartsock. She was a principal at Ross Elementary before she was snapped up by Michelle Rhee to run the out-of-school programs, that is, before she’s tapped to be Ray’s replacement. But, there’s some concern that because she’s just an educator, that DPR might not be the best choice for her to run. Her advocates point out that the out-of-school programs at DCPS are extensive and frequently involve managing 30,000 students’ post-school activities, including sports.

Photo courtesy of
‘Beauty in the District’
courtesy of ‘NCinDC’

Fast Forward to early October. Ms. Hartsock goes before the Parks & Rec subcommittee of the Council for confirmation hearings. Let’s just say that things go badly. There’s concerns over an order by Ms. Hartsock, to preserve the operation of daycare centers in the face of privatization and/or closings, which is considered by some councilmembers to be a fiat action outside of her purview. Unfortunately, that’s not what gets said. Instead, Marion Barry says that Ms. Hartsock doesn’t understand ‘our’ culture. Hilarity ensues.

She’s voted down by the committee 4-1, and then by the council 7-5. Councilman Harry Thomas responds to the Post editorial by trying to go back to the legal issue in the public eye, but the damage is done. The Attorney General, speaking for the Fenty Administration, sticks out his finger and does the For Shame gesture.

Faced with the defeat of his nominee, Mayor Fenty decides that the only thing to do is appoint her to be the interim director of parks and rec. The Mayor’s sly ploy ends up causing a little mini-scandal when Councilwoman Mary Cheh calls the Fenty administration “lawless,” which results in AG Nickles calling her an “angry woman.” If you said to yourself just now, “Oh that must’ve gone over like a fart in church,” you are so right. Nickles later sends Cheh flowers. And an apron. (Okay, he didn’t send the apron, but he probably thought about it.)

So, that’s the most drama-heavy of the whole thing. Ximena Hartsock got some apologies, but some scowls, as well. She can serve 180 days this time around, which means that mid-to-late April 2010, we might be back at this. However, this isn’t the whole of the situation over at DPR. The other part that’s got undergarments in a rotational configuration is $82M in funding that got transferred from the Parks & Rec department over to the DC Housing Authority, which in turn gave out some no-bid contracts to Fenty-ally and fraternity brother Omar Karim, who runs Banneker Ventures. Loose Lips has the full breakdown of benefactors who got no-bid contracts with no oversight. AG Nickles says the contracts are good, but the hearings are much more skeptical, and legislation to put a halt to those contracts is before the Council today. Expect to see some fireworks, though, as the Council is pretty much pissed over this. Things are still shaking out, but the editorial in today’s Post is a must-read. There’s plenty of blame to go around here.

Welcome to the proxy war that continues daily between Mayor Adrian Fenty and the City Council over control of the budget, the day to day governance of the city, and the rewarding of campaign contributors.

I live and work in the District of Columbia. I write at We Love DC, a blog I helped start, I work at Technolutionary, a company I helped start, and I’m happy doing both. I enjoy watching baseball, cooking, and gardening. I grow a mean pepper, keep a clean scorebook, and wash the dishes when I’m done. Read Why I Love DC.

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2 thoughts on “Anatomy of a Scandal: Parks Department

  1. Thanks. Learned more here in a few minutes than aywhere else over the past weeks. Very interested in Council-Rhee. There is enough to goaround the block a few times. Do you think Fenty is msimply rewarding or it is more complicated than that?Perhaps he is trying to get things done in the time he has–didn’t he argue this was the most efficient route? I can’t tell.

  2. It’s hard to say that this is the best thing for efficiency. Yes, fewer levels of approval for expenditures and greater flexibility makes it easier to get things done, but it also makes it easier to steer contracts toward “friendly” vendors, which seems like is what happened here.