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Jesús Aguirre, the new boss of the D.C. Department of Parks and Recreation (DPR), has quite a bit in common with the departing boss, Ximena Hartsock:
1) He’s Hispanic;
2) He comes to DPR from a top post in the school system, where he worked as director of school operations; and
3) He’s an interim director.
There’s more to that third point than meets the eye. When mayors hold press conferences to announce their pick to head an agency, they usually send the name immediately to the D.C. Council for confirmation. Not so in this case, explained Mayor Adrian M. Fenty at a press conference this morning: The administration will wait a while before passing along Aguirre’s credentials to the council.
In Fenty’s own words: “We will make sure we have exhausted every avenue to make sure the person we submit is the best person for the job.”
Odd, huh? Does that mean that the Fenty people don’t have confidence in Aguirre? Not necessarily. What it does mean is that the mayor is committed to avoiding a repeat of the nasty showdown that ended with the rejection of Hartsock as the permanent director of the agency.
Hartsock is a Fenty favorite and was hastily placed at the top of DPR in April following the summary dismissal of Clark Ray. The council declined to confirm her appointment in large part because of its frustrations with the whole Fenty way of life—-including stonewalling on crucial mayoral-legislative matters and its failure to heed council directives in the recreation realm.
Though Hartsock will no longer be calling the shots at DPR, she has landed a slot as an analyst in the office of the city administrator. Neither Fenty nor City Administrator Neil O. Albert denied that Hartsock is a strong candidate to head up the Children and Youth Investment Trust Corp., a quasi-governmental outfit that partners with both public and private entities to fund youth-related programs.
Reporting by Mike DeBonis
UPDATE, 12:20 P.M.: Some initial thoughts from Ward 5 Councilmember Harry Thomas Jr., who as chair of the parks committee, played the lead role in derailing Hartsock’s nomination: “I don’t know much about him; I don’t know if he has a recreation background.”
Thomas did credit Albert with bringing Aguirre by his office this morning, but, like many a frustrated legislator, he felt he should have had a role in the selection process that he’s not exactly entitled to. “I wanted them to work with us to find someone with relevant experience” in a “transparent process,” Thomas said.
The “recreation background” thing may or may not be a big deal; Thomas made great hay out of Hartsock’s “lack of subject matter experience,” and Aguirre likewise doesn’t have any particular resume items in the field—-he’s been in education for his entire career. But, says Thomas, “I don’t know if it’s automatically a deal-breaker,” saying he’d credit experience in “budgets, managing people and programs.” That Aguirre certainly has done at DCPS, as the guy charged with making the trains run on time.
The fact that Aguirre is in on an interim basis, Thomas says, also gives him succor. He called upon Fenty to conduct a broader search in the coming months in order to get the “best of the best.” —-Mike DeBonis