- The Washington Times - Friday, October 20, 2000

Three District of Columbia Council members are publicly calling for the resignation of Robert Newman, director of the Department of Parks and Recreation, whose tenure has been marred by a litany of complaints.

Vincent Orange, Ward 5 Democrat, said Mr. Newman has lost the confidence of residents and should resign. Jack Evans, Ward 2 Democrat, and Phil Mendelson, at-large Democrat, yesterday told The Washington Times "the department needs new leadership."

Several City Hall sources said five other council members are privately telling administration officials that Mr. Newman should resign because of what they say are his poor management and personnel decisions. Mismanagement of funds, lack of accountability, lack of leadership and progress in the department are among their complaints.

Those members are Harold Brazil, at-large Democrat; Kevin Chavous, Ward 7 Democrat; Sharon Ambrose, Ward 6 Democrat; Kathy Patterson, Ward 3 Democrat; and Sandy Allen, Ward 7 Democrat.

Mr. Chavous said he wants answers from Mr. Newman at a hearing Tuesday before making a decision on whether to ask that the director resign.

It is not clear, the sources said, what the other five members of the D.C. Council think of the situation. They did not return telephone calls from the Times.

Mr. Newman recently has been criticized for several questionable decisions: using federal money targeted for a summer camp for poor children on a trip to a sports competition in the Virgin Islands for 88 teen-agers; missing a contract deadline for 152 preschool children in D.C. recreation centers; the use of funds to send 27 staff members to a training conference in Phoenix; and failure to start a team of youth mentors.

One of the main complaints from council members is that Mr. Newman has failed to maintain ball fields and play courts, manage summer camps and pay seasonal employees on time.

Mr. Newman also came under scrutiny after The Washington Post reported discrepancies in his resume.

Most recently, he conceded making the mistake of using a department employee to help coach his daughter's basketball team.

"I regret that this incident occurred and that it has raised questions about the proper use of our recreation facilities and employees' time," Mr. Newman said in a statement. "I am taking immediate steps to reimburse the District government for the cost of the employee's time."

Yesterday, Mr. Newman was zealously questioned by officials, sources said, about using a chauffeur a privilege the D.C. Council must approve.

Mr. Brazil was first to make the public call for Mr. Newman to leave the department in a press release issued Wednesday. "We need a new leader who puts District children first.

"The director has failed to produce quality recreation for children," Mr. Brazil's statement said.

"This office lacks accountability. Instances of mismanagement under Mr. Newman's leadership have piled up. The department has shown no progress and none is in sight. We must cut our losses. The welfare of our children won't wait."

Mr. Newman has been under fire since the end of last year over his management of the District's Parks and Recreation Department.

Spokesman Terry Lee yesterday said he would relay a message seeking comment from Mr. Newman. There was no response by press time.

Mayor Anthony A. Williams and his administration are sticking by Mr. Newman.

"We're focusing our efforts on Robert addressing all these issues in his yearlong performance," Mr. Williams said last evening.

The mayor would not say whether he thinks Mr. Newman should resign. "Our response to all these charges will be at the hearing," he said.

John Koskinen, the District's new city administrator, denied that there is a major problem and said the department has "made real progress this year." He added that Mr. Williams is closely monitoring how well the department and Mr. Newman match up to an "action plan" put in place earlier this year.

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