Dear PoP – Controversy around the City Council rejecting the confirmation of Dr. Ximena Hartsock as Director of the DC Department of Parks and Recreation

Photo from DC DPR biography

“Dear PoP,

I noticed you hadn’t mentioned the latest controversy around the City Council rejecting the confirmation of Dr. Ximena Hartsock as Director of the DC Department of Parks and Recreation. Many are decrying this action of the Council to be a slight against Mayor Fenty and not Dr. Hartsock, who has worked tirelessly to improve DPR’s services during the summer.. She was appointed by the Mayor in late April during the peak of the busy summer season and an outstanding job by most accounts, including many of the Councilmembers who voted against her (see Washington Post editorial on vote here:

During her confirmation hearing, she was subjected to extremely harsh treatment from Councilmembers Harry Thomas, Jr. and Marion Barry that included several sexist remarks suggesting she would not be able to understand sports administration as a female and was told by Barry that she could not “understand black and brown culture” of DC, particularly in Ward 7 and 8 because she is a Latina. They also suggested that she was unfit because she has no qualifying experience in recreation (see Washington Post editorial on the hearing here:

Many folks are outraged by this because Dr. Hartsock has been a dedicated public servant to this city for 15 years. She served as a Parent Coordinator, Assistant Principal and Principal at DCPS and went on to lead the DCPS Office of Out-of-School Time (managing all of the after-school, Saturday, and summer programs for DCPS) as a key member of Chancellor Michelle Rhee’s transition team.

I could go on and on about her as could the many residents and CBO leaders who voiced their support for her on Friday, but I would love it if you could post something about this travesty to see if others feel the same way. I think the comments about DC culture are especially damaging to the progression of this city.”

Has anyone followed this controversy? Do you support the Council’s decision in this case?

32 Comment

  • i got the impression it was a way for the council to express displeasure at mayor fenty and chancellor rhee for doing what they want and not listening to the council. like closing down parks-run day care. (on a related note, does it make sense for parks & rec to run day cares?)

    i think her association with rhee didn’t help given the recent tumult over firing lots of existing dc teachers and hiring lots of new ones.

    whatever the case, i’m uncertain that there’s someone waiting in the wings who would as good at this job. and male. and black/latino. and not associated with rhee. or fenty.

  • Folks are outraged because she has been a dedicated public servant but not because of the blatant racism… hmmm or can we not call black people racist’s. The very idea that Barry is even in public office speaks volumes of his constituency, I don’t think they understand much.

  • I think your emailer left out the most relevant fact to this controversy. She carried out Fenty’s plan to close the park run day care centers even though the Council passed legislation ordering him not to do so.

    I question the impartiality of the emailer, given this omission.

  • The following is a letter sent earlier this week to Mary Cheh from Stephanie Pitt, who manages the new Wilson Aquatic Center in Tenleytown, which falls under DCPR. Just passing this along. Don’t kill the messenger.

    Councilmember Cheh,

    I wanted to write you express my complete and utter disappointment in
    your decision to remove Dr. Ximena Hartsock from her role at DC Parks
    and Recreation. I expected such a misinformed, illogical vote from
    councilmembers like Marion Barry and Harry Thomas but when I heard
    your remarks at the hearing today I was appalled. I am very much aware
    of all the back and forth regarding the OES program and thought it was
    very small of you to use this for any ground against Dr. Hartsock.

    In working with you on the Wilson Aquatic Center throughout the
    planning, opening, and community involvement stages I had been so
    impressed with how you seemed to constantly serve your constituents
    and rally on their behalf. In the past six months I had become so
    excited and enthusiastic about the things the government can
    accomplish. I was hopeful about the huge steps that can be taken
    forward when communities come together to face challenges.

    I am not writing this email because I am upset or concerned about my
    career… I have many other great opportunities waiting. I am writing
    because I am even upset about the way Dr. Hartsock has been thrown
    aside after six months of incredible work and dedication… She is the
    most resilient, passionate woman I have ever met and I know she will
    rise to bigger and better things. I am writing because I am sad for this
    district. I am sad for Ward three residents. I am sad for its seniors, it’s
    children, its disabled population, its youth, and its adults. I am
    sad because these are the individuals who were elected to represent.
    Your role as a councilmember is to speak on their behalf and you have
    not fulfilled your responsibility.

    I came to work with DC Parks and Recreation in May of this year. I
    had three other career opportunities but came to with Dr. Hartsock
    instead because I was so inspired and motivated by the vision she has
    for this district. I worked with her at DC Public Schools the summer
    of 2008 and was completely blown away by her work ethic, character,
    and leadership.

    I am one of Dr. Hartsock “transition team” members that gotten so much
    attention in the past two days. What you probably don’t know is that
    I volunteered for the first two and a half months that I worked for DC
    Parks and Recreation and often worked 18 hour days, seven days a week.
    Some of the challenges we inherited from years of mismanagement,
    corruption and apathy often seemed overwhelming. Throughout these
    challenging times, Dr. Hartsock would return our focus back to the
    community members and constituents we were here to serve. She would
    remind us that no demand or request was unreasonable, no problem was
    irresolvable, and that every constituent deserved to be treated like a
    king. Dr. Hartsock exemplifies what it means to be a public servant.

    We have had over 30,000 patrons visit Wilson Aquatic Center since it
    opened. Thousands of your constituents have enjoyed the programming
    offered by our agency including Parent/Child Learn to Swim classes,
    Child Learn to Swim classes, Youth Learn to Swim classes, Adult Learn
    to Swim, Senior Aquatic Fitness, Deep Aquatic Fitness, Water Tai Chi,
    Water Belly Dance, Stroke and Turn Clinic, and Family Fun Days.
    Registrations for a new Learn to Swim Program for students at Janney,
    Murch, and Wilson were scheduled to begin next week. We also
    developed a Lifeguard Academy Program for students at Wilson High
    School to train lifeguards (also guaranteeing them a position at one
    of our 19 outdoor pool facilities during Summer 2010. We had Division
    I Diving Coaches that were scheduled to come in for youth diving
    clinics, professional water polo players that wanted to start a youth
    club, and a master synchronized swimmer that we reached out to run
    clinics at the facility. A partnership with UDC’s Bodywise Program
    was in the final stages. We were so excited about the opportunities we
    could provide the Ward 3 and surrounding community through this
    facility. We worked tirelessly to find funding and establish
    contracts to maintain the systems and cleanliness of the facility. We
    worked around the clock to ensure every aspect of the facility
    (programming, security, staffing, and maintenance) started off and
    continued to run smoothly. This was all while we were still running 25
    outdoor pools and 7 other indoor pools. The work has not been
    glamorous but I, along with all of Dr. Hartsock’s team gave 110% day
    in and day out.

    I am still eager and passionate about serving the district community.
    I have met such wonderful community members throughout your ward and
    others and will continue to maintain and build those relationships. My
    heart is for public service and making agencies and organizations like
    DC Parks and Recreation function in the way in which they were
    intended. I am saddened that you would allow a personal political
    agenda or tension with the mayor to influence a decision of such
    weight. If you are upset with decisions made by the mayor, I would
    have hoped you would have addressed the mayor, not made a decision
    to remove Dr. Hartsock. This decision is going to have dramatic
    ramifications on so many constituents throughout the district. As
    adults and elected officials I would hope you could come together
    to confront these challenges. I am disillusioned by your decision
    Councilmember Cheh and would appreciate your response.


    Stephanie Pitt

  • Mary Cheh = bone head limousine liberal….

    FYI, I’m a liberal dem myself, but her vote on this was idiotic. She’s aligned herself with the black racist branch of the council.

    For once, I’m glad Jim “Taxicab” Graham is my council member.

  • I know very little about the situation, but I did find it suspect after reading Barry’s comments from the hearing. So, yeah, I too am glad Jim “Taxicab” Graham is my rep. (good nickname Columbia Heights Dude)

  • “Taxicab” only begins to describe the depth of Graham’s corruption, but yes, he was right on this issue.

  • This seems to me to be an obvious case of a battle between those who want to move the District forwards, encourage new development and growth and make the city a better place for all of its residents and those who seek only to protect entrenched interests, would be happy to go back to the way things were in the ’70s, ’80s and early ’90s and scream “gentrification” and every hint of progress. What is so depressing is how often the latter group seems to win in this city.

  • My impression is what the first poster said – this was mainly intended as a statement by the councilmembers against the mayor. (The five who voted for her said as much). I don’t think this was as much about her “qualifications” although whenever Barry and Thomas start talking stupid stuff starts flying out. And they’re not the only ones. It’s well established that being a complete fool isn’t a bar to holding office in this city.

    Still, I don’t know that she was so spectacular in 6 months that it’s an “outrage” she wasn’t re-appointed. My knowledge is limited but I’m involved with a group that works with DPR occasionally, and it seems like most of what DPR has done in the past 6 months is stuff that actually was planned and got moving under the former director.

    Hope they can find someone else competent, and acceptable to the council, because I do think there has been noticeable mprovement in DC parks over the past couple of years.

  • K St.
    I totally agree, and am shocked by the white upper NW liberals going along with it. Apparently, since their neighborhoods are already livable, those of us east of the park are expendable in their efforts to look PC.

    That means you Mendelson and Cheh.

  • As Jake noted above, Hartsock blatantly broke the law. This has become something of a modus operandi of the Fenty administration. Another tendency of Fenty officials is to refuse to cooperate with the Council. Again, Hartsock was also guilty of that. The Council has a duty to perform — one which it has all too often failed to undertake. It’s sad that it took this long for the Council to begin to show its displeasure and even more unfortunate that a minority of Council members made an issue of race and gender. However, that should not overshadow the rule of law issues at play here. It’s telling that several commenters are praising a Council member who is himself so closely associated with political corruption. Perhaps the respect for laws has truly been lost in this city.

  • I’ve not noticed anything so stupendous regarding DCDPR in the last six months that would demand such gnashing of teeth for a Fenty puppet with ZERO experience running parks before she was handed this job. I doubt the parks will close over this. Is there some lack of over-educated, under-experienced and unemployed political hacks in this town? I think not. Swing a dead cat and you’ll hit a former “Chief of Staff”, “Deputy Assistant Director”, or “Executive Consultant”. Puh-lease.

  • Just when I thought the DC civic management team was starting to get better, the city council starts going all ethnic-cleansing on us.

    WTF, DC? It takes real talent to turn the capital of the wealthiest country into a dysfunctional failed city. Congratulations!

  • All I know is when Hartsock came in the Parkview Rec Center was a mess and she helped clean it up. Who knows what will happen now.

  • I think I was too obtuse in my comment above.

    Given that the Council passed legislation that stated that the park day care centers should stay open, and Harstock closed them anyway, I don’t see any way that the Council could vote to confirm her. To do so would be to endorse the proposition that the Mayor can flout the Council at his whim. And the issue of closing the centers is not just a petty dispute either. For the folks who had kids in those centers it’s a very big deal.

    Her treatment at the confirmation hearing was deplorable. Barry and Thomas are buffoons. But that’s besides the point, and the other council members who voted against her confirmation did so for reasons that had nothing to do with their foolishness. Raising the issue of her confirmation in this forum, without mentioning the day care centers, the legislation, and her conduct, is deliberate obfuscation.

    Funny thing is, I don’t think that the government should be running the day care centers, and I agree with the decision to close them. I just don’t think the Mayor has the right to ignore laws that displease him.

  • Parks and Recreation was one of only a couple of DC agencies that Barry didn’t run into receivership in the 90s. I suppose that makes him a expert on that department. I’m surprised at the lack of back bone that Mendelson and Cheh have. I see it as a really petty spiteful move on their part. I’m glad that Tommy Wells is my councilmember, and I won’t be voting for Mendelson’s next election.

  • It is kinda funny that the most vocal group of people supporting her nomination before the hearings and immediately afterwords (and I don’t mean this PoP thread) seemed to be supporting her because she is Latina. The funny part is the fools – Barry & Thomas both went racial and sexist on her.

    I guess I have no opinion. I don’t know if I like the city council trying to micro manage the DPR and the day care centers. Sure some folks lost out big time, but we can’t have the council stop progress every time someone looses on on something. In that case we’d be unable to do anything that would anger anyone. Therefore, her listening to her boss (Fenty) and moving forward was the right thing to do.

    On the other hand, I don’t see her being some wonderful person that we should grab our pitchforks and light up city hall.

    Bottom line, I think the Council should vote on the qualifications and body of work of a person – not their problems with the City Council!

    (Good Vote Ward 1 Councilman Jim Graham!)

  • The whole thing was a sham. I encourage folks to watch the video of the “proceeding.” It was reminiscent of a kangaroo court- absolutely outrageous. Regardless of the vote, the city owes Hartsock and official and contrite apology. The council should be ashamed of themselves.

  • No offense – It is the Dept. Parks and Recreation can’t get too worked up about it. Council sent message to Fenty. Big City Political appointment better have tough skin.

  • I’ll take Taxicab Graham or Fenty any day over some of the “old school” (read even more corrupt than Graham) DC politicians However most of the members of the City Council are either blatantly racist or limousine liberals to such an extent that they refuse to stand up against the old guard and expose them for the fraud masters they are.

    You’d hope eventually the city just gentrifies to an extent where there will just be a couple of these turds on the Council and their votes won’t really matter.

  • She’s hot. Yowza. Let’s give her the job anyway.

  • Many are saying Hartsock “broke the law”, but the reality is that the Council demanded these day care programs continue without providing the proper budget allocation to fund the program. It was costing DPR over $7.9M per year to run this program, but because the enrollment was low, they were being reimbursed through the federal for only $3M of the costs.

    To cover the differences, the agency was taking away from other services (one of the reasons why before this past summer there were many issues with grass not being cut, pool hours being limited, other youth programs being grossly understaffed, etc).

    To continue running the program according to the Council law would be directly violating another law which prevents DC agencies from intentionally running programs under a deficit.

    Take a deeper look at the situation and you’ll see, there have not been rallies full of discontent parents from the elimination of these programs. The reality is these programs were merely transitioned to private groups and a few school-based programs to DCPS. There were no breaks in service, no change in locations, and all parents had the option to continue service in the same day care center, albeit with a different provider.

    The most vocal opposition to this transition of service were former employees. The several hundred employees working for DPR were RIF’ed, but many were picked up by the private groups to staff their same centers. The ones who didn’t get picked up, were only ignored b/c they lacked the proper certifications or did not have the necessary 2 years of college or Associate’s degree. These same people (roughly 25 in all), were making $50K per year with benefits to babysit classes with only a few students.

    And frankly, if anyone has seen some of these programs, you would know they were NOT the best in quality.

  • I live near Parkview Rec Center and in the last 6 months huge improvements have been made there – both in the grounds and in the programs being offered. Jennifer Nguyen has put a lot of positive energy into programs, day camps, workshops – activities which are inclusive of everyone in the neighborhood. With the non-confirmation of Hartsock, Jennifer has resigned. Such a shame; such a sham.

  • Part of me hopes she finds a slimey, top-shelf lawyer with a track record of totally ELIMINATING defendants in anti-discrimination suits and goes to town. Barry would survive it, but perhaps some of the mere mortals who went along with this outrage wouldn’t.

  • I met her when she was an ass’t principal for DCPS. Then she was promoted to principal of Ross ES. She went to work for Rhee as head of out of school time which includes after care and summer school programs. Under her, both sumer school and after care became much less babysitting and much more academically focused, often staffed by people who could provide a more academic focus. I was surprised when Fenty took her out of DCPS and had her head parks and recreation. But I soon understood his vision. Hartsock was to do to parks and recreation what Rhee is trying to do to DCPS: totally reform it. And that may mean removing people who see both of those agencies more as a job provider than a government service.

  • From reading these comments it seems like Hartsock was a competant administrator, if not the only one capable of holding that post. Perhaps the main issue though is the mayor refusing to abide by the Council’s decision to continue DCPR-run day-care services. It seems like having more day-care providers (granted that they are well run) would be beneficial – is there any other DC agency providing these services if DCPR does not? I always hear about huge waiting lists to get day-care in the city, and yet we do have a plethora of new athletic fields and extended pool hours (this part of DCPR hardly appears to be underfunded). I think Fenty should have listened to the Council and prioritized the former and not the later.

  • To NAB, I can only say, “gross.” I hope your dream does not come true.

    The comments here have captured the spectrum of opinion, so I won’t say too much new. Only that if the council had confirmed her, it’s possible that DCPS and DPR would have merged, and no one wants that.

    One thing that I haven’t reallly seen mentioned is that within DPR currently there is lacking, massively so, a combination of knowledge and authority. There are plenty of people with knowledge, but they are at the mercy of those in authority who do not want to do the right thing and allow the people who know what they are doing to implement actually something. Ximena Hartsock WAS tireless and great in many ways, but she tied the truly knowledgeable’s hands because she only wanted to do what the community wanted, which often is extremely misinformed.

  • I have another angle: the City Council and many DC voters are getting tired of Adrian Fenty. Hartsock was a casualty of that. DPR was doing ok and the former head is going after Phil Mendelsson (good). Thomas’ and Barry’s comments were just rotten icing on an otherwise decent cake.

  • A closer look at the facts reveals quite a lot:
    1) the City Council passed a “law” that violated two anti-deficiency laws of the federal government and of the District because adequate funding was not provided by the Council;
    2) the DC Council, which appears not to have done its homework at all, attempted to pressure Hartsock into behaving unlawfully.
    3) Hartsock respects the rule of law and gets fired for it.
    4) the battle between Fenty and the DC Council could have been fought on a real issue – not this confirmation.

    The consequence is that DC loses an able administrator who accomplished quite a lot in her 6 month tenure. We get to keep, however, council members who do not know the applicable laws in this case (yes, we keep even the Harvard trained ones) and who either participate in misogynist and racist behavior or condone it with their vote.

  • travesty??? lmao – must be nice to live in certain neighborhoods… regardless of her race, creed or color – like so many that came in with Fenty she’s simply unqualified. It appears to me that SHE’s the one using race as her excuse to stay in… Its about damn time City Council did something that made sense… I guess the white folks on the panel were racist too…

  • Pardon me you self-centered jerks who have not followed this matter closely at all. You simply jumped on the bandwagon and you are truly ill-advised. The daycare programs were sabotaged by Fenty because he’s aware that idiots like yourselves would never dig further. I was a daycare parent, and I saw the budget. I also saw (via FOIA) the massive waiting lists at centers that were less than 50% capacity. DPR refused to place children in these centers citing the lack of staff to watch the children – it just continued to go in circles. However, the most important thing is that I also have a copy of the MOU where Clark Ray signed over millions of dollars BACK to OSSE which could have been used to properly run the daycare centers. Further, mismanagement of funds by prior directors and management further sabotaged the programs. In the end, it would have been an easy fix – refund the money given to OSSE, fill the centers using the waiting lists and hire a few more staff. These travesties were the basis of the laws introduced to prevent closure of the daycare centers. AND BY THE WAY, it was a unanimous decision by council to pass these laws (well, there goes your Jim Graham crooked councilman).

    Further, Hartsock did not have experience in parks and rec AND (Stephanie Pitt) you and the team worked so long and so hard because you spent too much time spinning your wheels. Why would she come without experience and surround herself with a complete team that had no experience?!!! I think that speaks volumes as to her management abilities!

    Further, the parents were not given adequate notice about the process of privatization. In fact, we were ALWAYS given incorrect information IF ANY!!! There are many centers that were shut-down altogether – and WE WISH that our children were still at the same locations. Are you serious?!!! Where are you getting your information? The dollar-store?!!! You insensitive creep! Our children were traumatized by the way they handled the entire thing. How would you like it if you took your child to school one day and learned that your center would not be reopening two days later? Two days!!! Or how about switching your child’s entire staff abruptly? My child hasn’t been the same! And how about our personal information (SSNs, DOBs, Addresses) and that of our children’s (medical records, etc.) were handed over to people without our permission. How would you feel. THEY BROKE EVERY LAW THEY COULD ALONG THE WAY. THEY WERE BRAZEN WITH THEIR TACTICS AND VERY UNRESPONSIVE TO US PARENTS GIVEN SUCH AN IMPORTANT CHANGE IN OUR LIVES AND OUR CHILDRENS’ LIVES.

    I’m glad Hartsock did something at one of the rec centers because that would be one of many that went ignored – no lights or basic needs met. And someone finally got it right – none of these accomplishments were actually hers! They began far before she took the position. You simply cannot go through the planning and budgeting process in DC government, bid out the construction work, and have rec centers/turf-fields built in a six-month time frame.

    People OPEN YOUR EYES!!! You can’t talk out of both sides of your mouth. Are you saying that the excuse that “I did what my boss told me to do” is acceptable in this case? Would you apply this same logic to the collapse of the banking and finance industry? Well, that’s why we’re in the mess we’re in – because people like you think it’s better to be friends and go along with your boss DESPITE ethics and morals.

    Fenty is pitiful! Barry said some things he shouldn’t have – I agree. But what did Harry Thomas say that was so stupid? I missed it. That man worked tirelessly to get Hartsock to cooperate. She laughed at him and said he was stupid if he thought she would. She even had to be subpoened to his hearings because she was so arrogant! She thought she was above-the-law. She refused on many occasions to answer his questions in each and every hearing. And each and every time, he allowed that as an acceptable answer. Her BS finally caught up with her. She deserved it because she put herself in the predicament. While she was running around telling crying, recently-terminated employees to leave with dignity, she should take her own advice to heart. Leave with some dignity and stop fighting what cannot and has not in the history of DC been done over. Get a life!

  • Oh – I neglected to mention that the cost of daycare from DPR to the private carrier increased 800% for us! This was not a smooth transition in any way, shape or form!!!!!

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