In February, Mayor Ed Murray announced that Jesus Aguirre of Washington D.C. had won City Hall’s latest “nationwide search” to fill a top position. Murray had already tapped a good number of newcomers through those far and wide searches – Police Chief Kathleen O’Toole from Boston, Policy and Strategic Planning director Robert Feldstein from New York, transportation chief Scott Kubly from Chicago, and Fire Chief Harold Scroggins from Glendale, Calif., among them.
Aguirre certainly fit the out-of-towner bill at least. He was born in Mexico and raised in Texas, then educated in Arizona where he became a teacher. He also taught science in California and in 2007 moved with his family to D.C. to direct school operations there. More recently, he became D.C.’s superintendant of education.
As an experienced educator, Murray said, Aguirre was a natural to run, well, Seattle’s Parks Department. Besides tennis, softball and ping-pong, the mayor suggested, Seattle’s 6,300 acres of parks and 26 community centers should be places of learning, too.
That may not get the lawns mowed, the weeds cut or the trash picked up. But what will that matter if the kids are too busy tapping on their cell phones and laptops to smell the flowers?
Between education jobs, Aguirre did put in four years as D.C.’s parks director. Besides, there was a bonus in landing him to oversee Seattle’s parks rather than its schools. Murray had gotten the newcomer he hoped for – someone who “would really represent and reflect the values of this city,” he said, even if the guy never lived here.
It all seemed a bit upside down, and now there’s another tipping point, though the mayor denies he planned it. Last week, after a nationwide search of course, he hired Monica Liang-Aguirre of Washington D.C. to become the city’s new director of early learning. She’s a longtime educator and grade-school teacher, and the mayor fortuitously found her sitting next to Jesus Aguirre, her husband.
Together, the city’s newly imported power couple could earn $320,000 annually, not counting perks and expenses. Aguirre, if his nomination is confirmed by the City Council, will make $190,000 as director of the city Parks and Recreation Department. Liang-Aguirre, who is set to take over in July as Early Learning Director and help launch a new pre-school program, will make $130,000.
When Joel Connelly of SeattlePI.com asked the mayor’s office about the coincidence of separate nationwide searches finding the winning candidates living together, he was told it was just fate. Two independent panels made two independent recommendations to hire the two of them, said mayoral press secretary Jason Kelly.
“Both candidates were considered purely on their merits,” he insisted. There was “no connection between an offer to one spouse and an offer to the other.”
At least Liang-Aguirre is an educator filling an educator’s job, even if the couple did not publicly disclose that a charter school they once operated in Phoenix was closed down by the state. Called Tertulia Pre-College Community, the school lost its charter in 2010 due to poor academic progress, untimely audits and failure to comply with funding requirements. The couple by then had already departed Arizona for D.C. although Aguirre remained head of the school’s board. He blamed the failure on the school’s new management.
Aguirre, who went from a D.C. school job to the parks job and then back to a better school job when he was appointed supe by D.C.’s mayor in 2013, calls himself “not the typical parks and recreation professional.” Still, in his view “education and the work we do in parks and recreation are really complimentary.” He was passionate about parks, he added, especially now that Seattle had approved a new parks district with taxing powers.
He has his critics as both educator and parks director. Mulling his appointment as schools supe, D.C. council members criticized him for the Arizona school failure and lack of management skills, for example. He was nonetheless approved.
Given a four-year appointment, he left the D.C. job last year with $44,000 severance after the nation’s capital elected a new mayor. It might seem surprising he and his wife would end up in Seattle, given his pitch to the D.C. council in 2013 for the supe’s job. “We love this city,” Aguirre said, “and look forward to continuing to raise our children here and to staying engaged in education and public service for years to come.” Well, at least he won’t have to change the wording when he faces the Seattle council.
firstname.lastname@example.orgRick Anderson writes about sex, crime, money, and politics, which tend to be the same thing. His latest book is Floating Feet: Irregular dispatches from the Emerald City.