By Nikita Stewart and Hamil R. Harris
Washington Post Staff Writers
Tuesday, April 21, 2009
D.C. Mayor Adrian M. Fenty abruptly fired his parks and recreation director yesterday, announcing that it was time to "shift gears" and replace him with a former principal who runs the after-school and summer school programs for the public schools.
The mayor's sudden dismissal of Clark E. Ray drew criticism from a D.C. Council member, a labor union president and gay activists.
Ray, who has been running the department since August 2007, was the highest-ranking gay member of the mayor's administration and respected for his background. He has a master's degree in sports management administration.
Ximena Hartsock, who will take over as acting director on Monday, has a master's degree in education and a doctorate in administration leadership and policy. She was principal of Ross Elementary before she was tapped to work under Schools Chancellor Michelle A. Rhee in 2007.
Peter Rosenstein, a gay political activist, called Ray's termination a tremendous loss for the gay and lesbian community. Council member Harry Thomas Jr. (D-Ward 5), chairman of the Committee on Libraries, Parks and Recreation, questioned replacing Ray with someone who has less experience in recreation.
"To change leadership as we go into the summer?" he said. "I'm going to have stringent oversight. I don't understand this at all."
Deborrah Jackson, president of AFGE Local 2741, which represents employees in the department, said she found the change confusing.
"If the new director doesn't come in with more experience and credentials, then we are no better off than when we have been in the past," she said.
Fenty (D) dismissed the criticism. "I haven't made a unanimous decision in 27 months and 18 days in office," he said at a news conference at Ferebee Hope Recreation Center in Southeast where he introduced Hartsock.
He said a walk-through of Ferebee a few months ago inspired his decision to change directors. Fenty offered no details about what he saw that displeased him, but said, "It was very clear that we needed to shift gears."
Hartsock said she will work to create "the best possible programming."
Ray said he learned of his firing less than a day before the news conference.
City Administrator Dan Tangherlini called Ray on Sunday and asked him to come to the John A. Wilson Building at 7 p.m. Tangherlini explained the need for a new direction, Ray said.
The mayor announced that Ray would take a job at the Greater Washington Sports Alliance, but Ray said that Tangherlini only "mentioned" the regional sports commission as a possible new employer.
Ray said he was proud of what he accomplished during his tenure. "For the first time in the history of the department, we have swimming pools open with water before April; we increased summer camp participation last year from 8,500 to more than 13,600 participants," he said.
Parents and day-care providers have protested the administration's decision to privatize day-care programs to save money in the proposed fiscal 2010 budget. Corrita Murray, mother of a 3-year-old in a program at Kenilworth Community Center, said she was pleased to see Ray go but worried that the city will close day care eventually.
Recently, Ray and Fenty were named in a lawsuit by recreation manager Michael Williams, who said he was fired after he raised concerns that the mayor's 9-year-old twin sons were playing in the wrong youth basketball league.
Ray said he did not believe the allegations played a role in his termination. Fenty declined comment. "That's a double no comment," he said, referring to restrictions on speaking about personnel matters and litigation.