UNDERNEWS

Undernews is the online report of the Progressive Review, edited by Sam Smith, who has covered Washington during all or part of one quarter of America's presidencies and edited alternative journals since 1964. The Review has been on the web since 1995. See main page for full contents

April 10, 2009

NO AGE LIMIT FOR MAYORAL NEPOTISM IN DC


David Nakamura, Washington Post - A former D.C. Department of Parks and Recreation manager sued the city for $5 million, saying that he was improperly fired after questioning why Mayor Adrian M. Fenty's twin sons were playing in the wrong youth basketball league.

In papers filed in D.C. Superior Court, Michael Williams, who served as the agency's athletics director for about a year, said he was terminated Feb. 23. That was 10 days after he had told his boss, Parks and Recreation Director Clark E. Ray, that he had received complaints from parents that Fenty's sons were participating in the Pee Wee basketball division for 6- to 8-year-olds. The boys were to turn 9 in early March, which meant they were supposed to be in the Pony division for 9- and 10-year-olds, the lawsuit says.

Although Ray told Williams that he was being terminated for "budget reasons," the lawsuit says, Williams and his attorney John M. Clifford say that he was fired "in retaliation for having made disclosures . . . about Defendant Fenty's abuse of authority in connection with the administration of the DPR youth basketball league."

Loose Lips, Washington City Paper - The conflict, according to Williams' account, began less than two weeks before he was fired. Williams was informed by a staffer that a situation was brewing down at Emery-that parents had lodged complaints that the Fenty kids were playing in the wrong league. . . .

Williams' attitude toward those conflicts is simple, he says: You gotta follow the rules, no exceptions. It's the only way, he says, to prevent chaos, a mess of exceptions that leaves no one happy. . .

As a seasoned bureaucratic warrior, Williams says he knew he was courting disaster as soon as he heard that Hizzoner's kids were involved. . .

Two days later, on Friday the 13th, he heard more complaints had been lodged. So he called Sean Conley, an employee at DPR headquarters said to be close to Fenty. Williams says he asked Conley if his "friend" knew about the hoops situation. Conley said he did and that Ray was aware of the issue, too.

Williams says he then called Ray, who confirmed that he was aware of the situation. But the DPR director hesitated to bring the matter up with his boss. . . .

It didn't come up again until the following Tuesday, when the DPR headquarters building on 16th Street NW was evacuated after reports of a gas leak. Outside, Williams saw Ray and went to ask him if he'd heard anything further on the Fenty kids. "They're going to play," Ray allegedly "snarled" at him. . .

Williams says he just couldn't have these kids flouting the rules. He turned to back channels; Williams knows a person who he describes only as a "close associate" of Fenty. He told this person about the situation, and the person agreed to contact Fenty in Dubai that evening to work out a solution.

No solution was in the offing: The next day, the "close associate" told Williams that he'd been "cussed out" by Hizzoner.

The next day, Williams' problem was compounded. Not only is the guy a stickler for following the rules, he's also a stickler for paperwork. Kids in DPR leagues are supposed to have a registration form and liability waiver filled out with full address, an emergency contact, and a parent's signature. What Williams got for the Fenty kids didn't have any of that-just the kids' names, with "Mayor's Son" written over the rest of the form.

So Williams called Emery to figure out what was up with that. He ended up getting what he thought was some very, very good news: The Fenty kids had been moved to the Pony team. The mayor, an Emery staff member said, had told the coach, who handles both Pee Wees and Ponys, to move the kids up.

Lew Turner, the coach, tells LL that the kids were indeed moved from the Pee Wees to the Ponys, but that the move was done entirely of his own initiative. "I made that call," he says. "Nobody made that call but me."

Turner says he texted the mayor to tell him his decision. Hizzoner's response? "'Great.' He didn't want no controversy."

Williams, meanwhile, felt like he had a load off his shoulders. "It was like, 'Oh, thank the Lord. All I got now is a paperwork problem,'" he says, and Emery staff said they take would care of it.

The following Monday, Feb. 23, Williams was fired.

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April 10, 2009 4:29 AM  

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