Only a few months ago, the National Park Service was celebrating Patricia A. Hooks.

The director of the Park Service, Fran P. Mainella, went to Atlanta in February to announce that Hooks, who had worked as an agency lawyer and manager, was the new head of the Park Service's southeast region.

"We engaged in a long search for just the right person to take charge of the southeast region," Mainella said in a Park Service news release. "Pat Hooks has proved herself to be an excellent and highly capable executive, and we are pleased to officially recognize her as part of our management team."

Mainella announced the promotion at the Martin Luther King Jr. National Historic Site. The Park Service news release noted that Hooks was the first African American woman to head one of the Park Service's seven regions.

In May, the Park Service issued a "media advisory" that said Hooks would be honored at a reception at Morehouse College in Atlanta. Mainella would be present, the Park Service said. The advisory listed five "possible interview topics" for reporters, including the subject of "opportunities for women and minorities in a profession previously thought to be reserved for males only."

Now, however, it appears that Hooks may no longer be a rising star at the Park Service.

Her supporters fear that her job as regional director is in jeopardy. Longtime Park Service employees portray Hooks as someone who has been treated unfairly.

Shortly after the media advisory was sent out, the Park Service canceled the reception.

More important, Hooks has not been moved into the Senior Executive Service, the pay system for regional and other top park officials, and Mainella decided to reopen the job -- just a few months after she had announced Hooks's appointment.

In recent weeks, the Park Service has re-interviewed applicants for the top Atlanta job, according to an employee who believes that the Park Service has mistreated Hooks. The Park Service plans to announce its decision soon, according to the Hooks supporter, who spoke on condition of not being identified.

Hooks, in a telephone interview, said, "I'm not sure I understand what is going on.

"Some people may think the job is still open, but I firmly believe I was selected for the position and was approved for the position," Hooks said.

She said she has held the job on an acting basis since July 2003 and permanently since February. She said her paperwork for promotion into the SES was completed in mid-May.

David Barna, chief spokesman for the Park Service, said the agency does not comment on personnel issues.

"This is still considered an active recruitment," he said. "All National Park Service recruitment actions are geared to ensure we meet merit principles. And this is what we are doing in this case."

Jerry Belson, who held the regional post before Hooks and is retired, said Hooks "knows her stuff" and "deserved the job."

He added: "Everybody in the world thought it was a done deal. I spent 35 years with the agency, and I don't think I've ever seen anything like this."

Friends of Hooks said Park Service officials hindered her appointment by raising a concern about a potential conflict of interest involving a contractor.

Hooks said she has been assured that an internal review found no problems. "There is no conflict of interest on my part, and there is no action or failure to act on my part that has created any kind of cloud related to the appointment or my qualifications for this job," she said.

Hooks's friends in the Park Service, who spoke on the condition that they not be identified because of fear of reprisal, also contend that she has been treated unfairly. They point out that two white males and one white woman have been promoted into the SES with no delays since Hooks's promotion was announced.

Hooks declined to discuss whether favoritism or bias played a role in how she has been treated. But, she said, "I don't think our history will indicate that this is a normal delay."

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