Fenty names school official as D.C. parks chief

By Nikita Stewart
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, December 3, 2009

Mayor Adrian M. Fenty tapped a District public school administrator Wednesday to head the Department of Parks and Recreation after the rocky six-month tenure of an acting director who was ultimately rejected by the D.C. Council.

As interim director, Jesús Aguirre will be in place for six months without having to go before the council for confirmation. Fenty (D) said he would decide after that period whether he would nominate Aguirre to be Ximena Hartsock's permanent replacement.

Hartsock, who conducted exit interviews with council members Tuesday, will stay in the Fenty administration as an analyst in the office of City Administrator Neil O. Albert. The council voted 7 to 5 in October not to confirm her as parks chief.

Aguirre's appointment ends one of several feuds between the council and Fenty over what council members see as the mayor's ongoing lack of respect for their authority. After the council rejected Hartsock's nomination, Fenty named her interim director, a move council members considered a backhanded way to override the vote.

Aguirre, director of operations for public schools, faces a shrinking recreation budget and controversy over the administration's routing of $86 million to the D.C. Housing Authority for construction of more than a dozen recreational facilities. Banneker Ventures, a company headed by a friend and fraternity brother of Fenty's, won the contract to manage the construction in an amended procurement process to quickly get the parks, ball fields and recreation centers built.

The projects are on hold as the council probes the transfer of the money and the award of the contract and several subcontracts. A fourth council hearing on the matter was Wednesday.

"Obviously, the additional scrutiny is going to add some pressure," Aguirre said at a news conference at Bald Eagle Recreation Center in Southwest Washington, where Fenty announced his appointment.

Council member Harry Thomas Jr. (D-Ward 5), chairman of the Committee on Libraries, Parks and Recreation, said he had hoped Fenty would choose a director from within the parks department. "I look forward to working with the new director," he added.

Thomas, known for his pro-labor stance, led several council members in opposing Hartsock, initially based on outcry from union leaders. The department's privatization of 13 child-care centers led to the layoffs of 160 workers.

Hartsock's contentious confirmation hearing and the subsequent council rejection sparked outrage among Latino community activists. Council member Marion Barry (D-Ward 8) said during the hearing that Hartsock, a native of Chile, did not understand black culture.

Community leaders were pushing for Fenty to name another Latino, but the mayor said that was not a factor in choosing Aguirre, who is Hispanic. "The only thing that will ever sway me" is whether a person is qualified, Fenty said.

He pointed to Aguirre's work at the school district. "He has been an invaluable player in the reform that happened there," Fenty said.

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