Former Alexandria mayor Kerry J. Donley was appointed athletic director for the Alexandria City Public Schools, following a day of confusion about his status and an emergency School Board meeting last night.
Donley, 49, the chief of the state's Democratic Party, had quietly applied for the position this spring after the current athletic director said he was retiring. Donley, a well-known figure in Democratic politics for more than two decades, had begun exploring the idea of a midlife career switch to teaching last year.
Kerry Donley said he had accepted the post while the superintendent was still saying the job was open.
"I'm delighted to accept the position of athletic director at T.C. Williams High School," Donley said. "They have a great reputation in the Washington region, and I look forward to working with all the students and athletes." Williams is the focus of interscholastic athletics in Alexandria.
It had appeared yesterday, however, that Donley's dream was in jeopardy after some School Board members expressed strong doubts about his qualifications Thursday night at a closed-door session.
Throughout yesterday Donley and School Superintendent Rebecca L. Perry were providing conflicting versions of how or whether he was hired.
Donley said that Perry had offered him the job the previous Friday and that he accepted and then resigned from his job as executive vice president for retail banking at Virginia Commerce Bank.
But as late as yesterday afternoon, Perry said that "the job is still open" and that the offer would not be final until a board decision was made.
Board members were called back for an emergency session at 6:30 last night -- the first session of its kind in recent memory, according to board member Kenneth L. Foran. Board members emerged an hour later with a unanimous endorsement of Donley's appointment.
They said they were prohibited by Virginia law from discussing what happened during Thursday's closed-door session.
The tumult over the appointment comes as the board faces a budget battle with the city council, which has proposed cutting $1.2 million from the schools' request for the next fiscal year.
Board member Charles H. Wilson said he had been concerned that Donley was overqualified.
"If he wants to return to something he loves, I understand that. But if he wants to park somewhere for political reasons, then I don't want him," Wilson said. "This job is also very hands-on, like picking up trash after the team leaves from a field we've borrowed. The previous athletic director did that."
Donley said he would be happy to pitch in. "At the bank, I've been known to operate a teller window when needed and to shovel the walk," he said.
Perry said the emergency board session was held to discuss another matter and that she decided to call for a vote on Donley because the hiring decision had leaked. The board had been set to vote on Donley on May 5, she said.
Donley, a volunteer soccer coach and the father of five daughters, served on the Alexandria City Council starting in 1988 and was elected mayor in 1996. He stepped down as mayor in June 2003 and was later elected chairman of the Democratic Party of Virginia.
It was unclear whether he would have to give up politics in the new job. He said he will take a pay cut; the posted salary was between $70,327 and $109,372. His start date has not been set. The current athletic director, A.K. Johnson, said he will retire in June.
Former council member David G. Speck (D) said Donley had told him and others of his new job about a week ago, and he commended Donley. "He's somebody who has the courage to follow his dream. I'm very proud of him."
Staff writer Martin Weil contributed to this report.