Parks appointment escalates feud between Fenty, D.C. council

Mayor Adrian M. Fenty has had several other squabbles with the council.
Mayor Adrian M. Fenty has had several other squabbles with the council. (Richard A. Lipski/the Washington Post)
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By Tim Craig and Nikita Stewart
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, October 25, 2009

D.C. Mayor Adrian M. Fenty has escalated a bitter feud with council members by renaming an interim head of the Department of Parks and Recreation, three weeks after the council rejected the nominee as unsuitable for the position.

Fenty's decision sets up a confrontation between the mayor and the council, and the fighting represents a major test of Home Rule as council members accuse Fenty of ignoring their role in the legislating and governing processes.

Several council members said they want Ximena Hartsock, whom they rejected 7 to 5 on Oct. 6, to leave the position immediately. One plans to ask the chief financial officer to withhold her salary. But Fenty administration officials said Hartsock will remain in charge until they find a suitable replacement.

Fenty reappointed Hartsock as interim director Friday, a day after it was revealed that $82 million in contracts to build parks, ballfields and recreation centers were awarded illegally without council approval. Most of the work went to firms with political or personal ties to Fenty.

"It's almost becoming a lawless administration," said council member Mary M. Cheh (D-Ward 3). "They seem to have no limits or restraint on what they are willing to do."

Attorney General Peter Nickles, who often speaks on behalf of the administration, said Cheh "has no idea what she's talking about."

"For her to make comments like that, it's stupid," he said. "She's an angry woman."

The controversy comes in a year in which Fenty and the council have squabbled over who gets baseball tickets, appointments to boards and commissions, and whether administration officials have to abide by council subpoenas. Fenty also regularly refuses to send representatives to council hearings.

Ed Lazere, executive director of the D.C. Fiscal Policy Institute, has watched the relationship between the administration and council. "The mayor may think he needs to use his powers as aggressively as he can, but when you alienate people who pass legislation, it may not serve you well," he said.

Fenty and Hartsock did not respond to requests to comment through their spokesmen.

Hartsock has been serving as interim director of the agency since April, but the council voted not to confirm her, saying the former principal of Ross Elementary School was not qualified to lead the agency.

Members also accused Hartsock of violating the law by following through with Fenty's plans to privatize day-care services.

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