Basket Case Did mayoral kiddie-hoops squabble end Parks and Rec manager’s career?

Technical Foul: Williams busts Fenty boys for playing in wrong league, loses job.
Darrow Montgomery

Michael Williams says he’s a by-the-book kind of guy. Always has been.

“I have suspended organizations, I have suspended coaches, I have forfeited ballgames,” the soft-spoken Williams says in the kitchen of his Michigan Park home. “Because one of my major responsibilities is to protect the integrity of the league.”

Make that “was.” Williams, 60, who spent some 28 years in city service, was fired on Feb. 23 from his job as a top manager in the Department of Parks and Recreation (DPR). As associate director for athletic programs, Williams was essentially in charge of running all the rec sports leagues in the city, serving thousands of youth and adults.

Two of those thousands were Andrew and Matthew Fenty, the 9-year-old twin sons of Mayor Adrian M. Fenty. Earlier this year, both were on a DPR youth basketball team based out of Emery Recreation Center, a gleaming facility on upper Georgia Avenue.

To hear Williams tell it, the end of his career in District government came when the Fenty kids and their powerful dad met his penchant for playing by the rules. Williams told his story [WMV, forward to 2:32:00] to a D.C. Council committee last month, and, this week, he is filing a lawsuit against Fenty, DPR Director Clark E. Ray, and the District government alleging defamation and retaliation under D.C.’s whistleblower protection statute.

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. The issue had to do with age: The Fenty boys were playing in Parks and Rec’s Pee Wee league, which is for those who are 8 and under. The next level, the Ponys, is for the 10-and-under cohort. The Fenty kids were cutting it close—their ninth birthdays were less than a month from the official league cutoff date of April 5—but the rules were clear: The kids had to play in the Ponys, not the Pee Wees.

It’s a touchy issue for a parent. If your kids happen to be born at the wrong time of year, they can end up playing against kids a year older—and a year bigger and stronger. So it’s not uncommon to have parents angling to keep their kids in a lower bracket and to have parents of other kids grumpy that someone else’s 9-year-old is dominating their 6-year-old.

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. That’s a perspective he developed in more than six years running sports leagues, first at DPR, then for three years at the Boys & Girls Clubs of Greater Washington. He came back to Parks and Rec early last year after Ray asked him to serve as athletic director, a $98,000-a-year position.

As a seasoned bureaucratic warrior, Williams says he knew he was courting disaster as soon as he heard that Hizzoner’s kids were involved. “I thought, ‘This is in our lap,’” he says. “We all felt like we were being set up. We’re left out here.” So he did something he doesn’t usually do: Nothing. Maybe this will just work itself out, he thought.

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, because he and his family were about to leave for a vacation—the infamous trip to Dubai, it turned out. Ray told Williams that he would consult the mayoral communications office on how to handle the matter.

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.

Another D.C. government official would have gotten the message at this point, but 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. [Download the forms: PDF 1, PDF 2]

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.

He was summoned to Ray’s office at the end of the day, where after a long, “babbling” windup, Ray told him he was being let go. Williams describes his tone as apologetic, as though this was not something he had wanted to do. Williams, as a manager, could be fired at any time for any reason, but he says Ray volunteered that the move was due to budget cuts. And Ray added a cryptic comment to his explanation: “You’re smart. You can figure it out.”

That night, the Fenty boys were scheduled to play their first game as Ponys.

The budget rationale seems to hold little water. In response to a query from LL about current layoffs, DPR spokesperson John Stokes says in order to meet next year’s proposed budget, “reductions in staff would need to take place before the end of [the current fiscal year].” But next year’s budget proposal has Williams’ department losing only a single part-time position [PDF, p.206/E-78].

Could it have been poor performance? Williams showed LL a recent evaluation, on which he scored a 3.47 out of a possible five points. That might seem mediocre in absolute terms, Williams says, but not in DPR terms: Ray, he says, has a standing order that no manager could register a rating higher than the “perceived performance” of DPR writ large. Which, Ray had determined, rated about a 3.5.

Stokes and Ray both declined to discuss Williams’ case specifically.

Williams is quick to rattle off a list of accomplishments and awards he’s accumulated. Ward 5 Councilmember Harry Thomas Jr. vouches for Williams’ service and says he was “very surprised” by his firing. “From every indication I have, Michael Williams was doing a good job. Every occasion I worked with him, he was very responsive,” says Thomas, who chairs the committee overseeing DPR. “I’ve known Michael for a very long time.…He’s very thorough, very responsible, and a hard worker.”

Thomas heard Williams tell his story in the D.C. Council chamber, at a DPR budget hearing he held late last month. Days after he was fired, Williams hired an attorney through a whistleblowers’ assistance outfit; the lawyer, John Clifford, wrote a letter to City Administrator Dan Tangherlini asking that Williams be reinstated, which he copied to Attorney General Peter J. Nickles. Since it involved threat of litigation, Tangherlini ended up referring the matter to Nickles.

Nickles tells LL that he is not aware of Williams’ allegations. “I have no idea,” he says. “The door is always open to the courthouse, as I like to say. And I lot of people open those doors.”

Clifford says he expects to file suit this week. Among its allegations is that DPR management spread rumors that Williams had embezzled city money in order to explain his firing—rumors that LL encountered in the course of reporting this column.

Fenty said he was also unaware of Williams’ allegations, even though they were briefly summarized at the end of a Washington Post story about the DPR budget hearing. Asked if he would categorically deny that he’d intervened in his sons’ basketball league, he demurred. “I’m not going to get involved with any personnel issue,” he tells LL.

If only that were the case, Williams says. He points out that a big part of the job he was paid to do by DPR was to prevent the problems presented by the egos and passions bred by youth sports—mainly coaches who try to bend the rules and dads behaving badly. “And this was both of them—cheating and improper parental conduct,” Williams says. “I had never heard of any executive using their political will for this type of purpose.”

The Vince ’n’ Victor Show Continues

Last month, LL covered the sizable personality conflict between D.C. Council Chairman Vincent C. Gray and Deputy Mayor for Education Victor Reinoso .

The conflict remains.

Last Tuesday, Reinoso showed up before Gray for his office’s budget hearing. Among the topics discussed was the charter school facility allotment, which is, rather controversially, being cut by $24 million. Gray and Reinoso discussed the topic for more than 15 minutes, and Gray seemed satisfied enough with the answers that he invited Reinoso to attend the hearing on the charter schools budget two days later.

Reinoso, though, had a hard time committing to that date. He kept telling Gray that he’d confirm the next day; Gray didn’t understand why he couldn’t just give a yes-or-no answer. “Is that a decision you can make independently?” he asked Reinoso, who sheepishly replied that it was. [Watch the hearing, WMV, forward to 3:07:50]

Fast forward to Thursday’s hearing, where, surprise, Reinoso doesn’t show.

From the dais, Gray explained that he had asked Reinoso to attend the hearing but that his office had said that he was taking a couple of days off, since he had been acting mayor the week prior. “So what I decided to do is something a little bit different from what we do here,” Gray said. “Rather than just wringing my hands and decry the fact that he’s not here to be able to talk on this issue, we took the time to excerpt portions of the hearing yesterday.”

Gray then played the 15-plus-minute clip from Tuesday, complete with the scheduling squabble. Applause and chuckles greeted Gray when the clip ended. [Watch the hearing, WMV format, forward to 00:01:30]

“Well, there you have it!” he said, before engaging in some of that hand-wringing: “I think what is especially bothersome to me is that, if one was going to be off, you could have said that earlier in the conversation—that I can’t be there because I’m not going to be at work on Thursday or Friday. Which, of course, would leave some cynic to believe that you decided that you were gonna be off Thursday or Friday after this exchange.”

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Our Readers Say

AD, you are better than this Bruh. And you're a competitive athlete yourself. You should WANT your sons to ball at their competitive best.

Reinstate this dude AD. It's these small, petty transgressions that people will remember at re-election time. Reinstate him and quiet this down...
This is getting ridiculous. I don't know whats worse, the fact he is by far an ineffective mayor or that there is no one who can challenge him.
This mayor says he wants quality people working for him; yet, when he has one, he terminates him for doing his job!?! This is absolutely absurd. We need a new Mayor immediately, one who cares about the people of DC and has integrity and character. There should be rules to protect honest, hard working employees who do their jobs against things like this.
This is Holy Week and I am going to pray for Mayor Adrian Malik Fenty. Oops, I forget Mayor Adrian M. Fenty is an Atheist.
What a surprise...Fenty (and his Cheney cohort, Nickles) has fired someone for doing their job!!! The arrogance of this administration far outweighs anything I imagined when he rang my doorbell. Wouldn't you want your sons to know that rules should be followed? Well, not if you're Fenty. Rules are for us suckers...not the political elite. Never again will I vote for this liar.
I've known Mike for close to 15 years and he is one of the few people in the District government who yearns to do things the right way. He is probably one of the few in DPR with a working knowledge of youth sports and programs that help our kids. Losing him over some Fenty bs is par for the course for this bought and paid for administration.
The more I learn about the ethics of Fenty as it relates to his conduct in the overall operations of DC, I become further dismayed by his display of arrogance, invisibility, and an attitude, "Because I want to, it's so".......DC should get his ass up out of office asap - he's killing the motivation of the real DC employees whose hearts are in it....they too saught recreational activity through DC rec when they were a child.

Fenty should do the right thing......as those kids get older - they'll feel the effects of their father not doing the right thing. The perception and attitude would be...."I aint dealing with their snobby asses" - "parents let them do what they want"
This is typical Fenty. I will do what I want when I want all hail to the king
I have known Michael from years back when we were both staffers at D.C. City Council. He caught my attention because while quiet, he was smart, always focused and appeared to have an extremely high work ethic. Over the years when I saw him around town he still had the same unpretentious air of being honest and having pride in whatever he was doing. Good guys should NOT finish last! Rules are for not made only to be broken by the privileged few....Mr. Mayor, if this termination really is for spite..shame on you!
Mayor Fenty is adept of late at turning relatively modest issues into major gaffes and unless he proves otherwise, an insight into his paranoid, vindictive soul. What a tool and so much for Mr. Constituent Services, who definitely seems to haver died around mid-September 2008.
Vote Fenty out in 2010. I don't know about you, but that blood money can't buy my vote. DC LETS VOTE Fenty OUT!!!! in 2010 YES WE CAN
Thanks Nupe. That explains it..... Fenty should be ashame. Does he and his children plan to move after his tenure is over. Let kids be kids Bruh, they'll be ok. No need to take another person's job for nothing. We need to pray for his wife. She gets the tail end of this stuff. Stay strong sister. Our prayers are with you.
I guess we got a full measure of the man that Adrian Fenty is when he rewarded the slavish devotion of his campaign manager, Alec Evans, by summarily firing him after the job was successfully completed. How embarrassing for the Fenty boys to be publicly outed as cheaters. Lets hope it is a learning experience for them.

I have always liked Clark Ray but he apparently did agree to drink the Kool-Aid. To think that such an egregious flaunting of rules and fair play was brought to his attention and yet he made a conscious decision to do the politically expeditious thing. He should be ashamed of himself. I think the only recourse is for Ray to resign.

Hubris, arrogance and a lack of much intelligence, hmmmm? Where have we heard these words applied to a Chief executive before in this town? That didn't turn out so well.

Although elected as Mayor, Fenty has abrogated most of his authority by outsourcing it and really assumed the role of a kind of Jock-in-Chief. That makes this doubly sad in that whatever his pretensions to athleticism he knows nothing about sportsmanship. A sad commentary on his father as well.

I agree with the comment that the Post should follow up on this to the end. The Post should also start looking at some of the other relationships of Fenty and his minions.

Moving forward it is evident President Obama would be well advised to give this corrupt cabal a wide berth. That is too bad too. Had Adrian Fenty evidenced himself to be a new age public servant, with intelligence and a sense of the public good rather then yet another arrogant, self absorbed, entitled prince it could have been a beautiful partnership.

To continue an association with Fenty and his crowd would rather be like instead of rescuing a dog for his girls the President just went out and stole one from some poor children.
I am in a movie. That is the only explanation. Fenty was almost like the second coming of Camelot. You never questioned his integrity. You believe he was the man of the people. He championed openness, spirit, loyalty to his tight knit staff.

Then a music montage hit and the man grows deeper into insanity. This is the part in the movie where top main characters leave.

Then the last is an indictment.
Wake up people of DC!! Fenty swindled us. Do Not Vote for Fenty in 2010!!! This man has no respect for his own employees, no respect for the rules and regulations that govern this city and no respect DC's citizens.
I once heard a Cropp supporter make this comment and this article and series of posts brought it to mind, "The best day of Adrian Fenty's life was the day Linda Cropp hired @%&%** to be her campaign manager." Lord did we ever make a mistake. Doubtful Cropp would run again but what about Marie Johns, she was excellent.
The phrase "worse than Hitler" is bandied about alot these days. But I knew Hitler. I worked with Hitler. Sir, you are no Hitler.

You're friggin Stalin.
I don't know. The pdf form didn't just say mayor's kid, it said "need copy of birth certificate ASAP". I've never heard of parent's being asked for copies of the birth certificate to play sports. Obama was asked for a copy of his and didn't have to show it to run for President of the US. I do know parents would often like kids to play in younger leagues and go to school with the next age group.

Williams was 100% right to stick to the rules and age requirements. The kids birthdates and ages were clear and correct. And so Mayor Adrian was finally informed that his kids were too old to play in the league they were entered in. They were changed, he was texted and replied "great". He had to apparently be contacted while overseas because it couldn't wait a few days. That doesn't sound particularly controversial to me. If there was resistance to the change from the mayor and he insisted on keeping the kids in the younger group, that would be a problem.

Getting fired. I don't want to speculate, but it doesn't seem to be directly about the fact that he wanted to change the kids to the older league and the mayor decided to fire him. Nope, no evidence of that.
I am so ashamed... not only did I vote for Fenty, I convinced my dad, who was a Cropp supporter, to do the same. I'm sorry, Dad. Never again!!! I can't wait to run to the polls in 2010 to vote for anyone but Fenty.
Mike, you should sue them personally and not the city. If you sue the city, we have to pay but if you sue then personally then they have to pay up out of their own pockets......... Just a thought.
Fenty got a dick what smell like shit
Fenty,

Your arrogance and dumbness know no bounds. You act as though there will be no day of reckoning...except that day will be upon us soon as we have the chance to vote your useless bum out.
Daniel, just a thought, but it probably smells like shit because it's been inside DC's collective anus since he was elected.
I voted for Fenty. Not only will he not get my vote next year, but if there were a way to impeach him now, I'd be 100% behind it. This dude thinks he's Kim Jong Il and we're in Communist China. And Nickles is just creepy...seemingly the physical embodiment of pure evil in the same way that Dick(head) Cheney was.

They look just like a low-budget Bush/Cheney...a damn dummy in charge sitting on the lap of his evil puppeteer.
btw... my husband is a coach and my kids have always played. he's been a coach since b4 the kids were old enuf to play. & i've been team mom for many teams...

Skeptical Bob... u always have to show birth certificates... EVERYBODY DOES!!! u have to prove ur child's age and weight to play on the team. otherwise u'd have unfair advantages.
Suga Mama, You are absolutely right ! When I played little league sports some thirty odd years ago, you had to present your birth certificate in order to play.

.....and Jackie, I think you might be wrong - Fenty's d*ck doesn't smell like shit because it's been in DC's collective anus, but probably in Skeptical Bob's instead. Maybe skeptical Bob will now become Fudged by Fenty.
As per usual for Washington City Paper, there's no smoking gun in the Fenty article, just rumor and conjecture. Come back when you have something more than a disgruntled fired employee's word for it.
SHHHHH Don't tell everybody Fenty is a DL brother. He makes us proud. Plz just be safe and don't take nothing home sweety. That's why his lil thang smells***** baby and the reason he got rid of the security detail. LMAO
mr.fenty i thought u was a dl brother because all u hire was gay people and is that way u beat ur wife
is shawn collins ur lover
fenty is a tyrant and tangherlini is his little henchman

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