Skip to comments.District 18 may pay price for Lee's pace (Sheila Jackson Lee throws cell phone at staffer & more)
Posted on 08/31/2002 9:31:56 PM PDT by GOPcapitalist
WASHINGTON -- Democratic Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee is a house afire.
She speaks up at news conferences and on the House floor, with a knack for showing up in front of the news cameras and C-SPAN.
Back in her Houston district, she jumps from funerals to birthday parties to school board meetings to job fairs, booked from early morning until late at night.
Even her critics concede that she lives for her constituents in the 18th U.S. Congressional District, despite her New York roots and Yale education.
But Jackson Lee's strengths also are her weaknesses.
Some staffers and critics say her pace and management style cause staff turnover and prevent her from running an efficient office.
And federal data suggest her constituents pay a price.
Records acquired under the Freedom of Information Act indicate that Jackson Lee has done a fraction of the casework -- inquiries or intercessions with the federal government on behalf of residents -- done by other Houston-area lawmakers.
For example, Jackson Lee, who has been critical of the Social Security Administration for mishandling the appeals of Texans who have been denied disability insurance, wrote the agency on behalf of 79 constituents since taking office in 1995.
By comparison, Rep. Nick Lampson's office intervened on behalf of 539 people in his district since he took office in 1997.
The Beaumont Democrat, like Jackson Lee, represents communities where many residents rely on disability and supplemental Social Security coverage.
Democratic Rep. Gene Green, who has written the agency on behalf of 538 constituents since 1995, also represents many poor Houstonians, some in neighborhoods adjacent to Jackson Lee's district.
High staff turnover
Jackson Lee declined numerous requests to be interviewed, or to answer questions regarding her constituent services, although she issued a statement that said: "I look forward to the Houston Chronicle allowing me to present the full and complete story of the record of service of my staff and myself to the 18th Congressional District in a fair and equitable manner as soon as possible."
Her defenders say the problem is with her employees, not the congresswoman.
"People who came to work for her thought this was a fancy job," said Gerald Womack, a former district manager for Jackson Lee with close personal and political ties to her. "And when it got down to doing the (case)work, they were not ready for it."
But other employees who have worked for Jackson Lee said she works her people unreasonable hours and can be abrasive, leading staffers to quit at a brisk pace. With high turnover, work goes unfinished, they said.
"There'd be casework stacked to the ceiling," said one of Jackson Lee's former district directors, who asked not to be named.
Nathan Williams, who went to work for Jackson Lee in 1998 after graduating from Princeton University, said he quit in 2001 after she threw a cell phone at him.
"I don't think I ever got home before 11 o'clock at night," he said of his years with the congresswoman. "And the latest I was in the office was at 8:30 in the morning -- at the latest.
"I'm not mad about it, because I chose to do it," he said. "I loved the work, I truly did. Even now I miss it. But doing that seven days a week, I couldn't take it anymore."
Gladys Quinto, an attorney who quit Jackson Lee's office in April after six months as legislative counsel, said the congresswoman threatened to fire her twice in her first week there. "She also asked me to write a memo telling her why I'm incompetent."
Lillian German, Jackson Lee's chief of staff at the time, said Quinto was among her most competent employees.
Former district director Larry Green said the congresswoman's constituents have more problems than those of other lawmakers, which spreads her staff thin.
He said a backlog developed in 2001, the year before his employment, because Jackson Lee had no district director. "When you don't have a district director monitoring the activities, a lot of times things are not done or resolved."
He defended Jackson Lee's record and commitment to her constituents, but added: "Of course, turnover is a problem."
Green left in the spring, after six months. He has not been replaced.
Goes with the office
Since taking office in 1995, Jackson Lee has had about 125 employees, not including temporary staffers and part-timers. In her first year, she lost 14 people, making turnover in her office the highest among freshman lawmakers.
First-year House members lost an average of 3.4 workers that year.
Rep. Ken Bentsen, D-Houston, who was elected the same year as Jackson Lee, has had a total of 38 employees -- including seven who have been with him since he took office.
Rep. Gene Green, D-Houston, who took office in 1993, has had a total of 45 employees.
On average, congressional staff members remain in the same House office for 3.7 years, according to the Congressional Management Fund. Jackson Lee's staff average is less than a year.
This year, by June 30, at least seven people had left Jackson Lee's Washington office, according to congressional records. At any one time, she has five to seven staffers employed in her Capitol Hill office and others employed back in her district.
In Washington, some former staffers have formed a "Sheila Club." They meet for drinks and meals, and to trade gossip.
Leon Buck, who had been Jackson Lee's only long-term Washington employee before leaving recently to become a lobbyist, said the congresswoman sees turnover as something that goes along with her office.
He said she doesn't worry about it, and she doesn't intend to change.
House members run relatively small operations, employing roughly 15 people at a time, usually with half in Washington to work on legislation, the other half in their districts to help constituents with government-related problems.
They initiate formal written congressional inquiries, and federal agencies must follow through.
That gives congressional offices unique power to demand answers for residents on Social Security coverage, low-income housing loans, high school students' applications to military academies or problems with the Internal Revenue Service.
"Once you're struggling with the federal government, you're at your wits' end," said Pat Strong, Bentsen's chief of staff and district director. "So you need an advocate, someone who can help cut through the red tape."
The work also is considered invaluable to getting lawmakers re-elected, although Jackson Lee has had no trouble keeping the votes of her constituents.
"The bottom line is, the woman is a hard worker," said Womack, her former district manager. "She's been a very strong force for this district."
Among the Houston area's seven congressional districts, Jackson Lee's stands out for its high concentration of black and Hispanic voters and its poverty and unemployment rates.
Her staffers say those constituents need more help than those in other districts.
But former staffers said the congresswoman would place unrelated demands on their time, such as driving her to events and organizing news conferences.
Former caseworkers said Jackson Lee's large immigrant community needed a lot of help dealing with the Immigration and Naturalization Service. But data show relatively few inquiries were made from her office.
In the eight-month period between Oct. 1, 2001, and June 1, Jackson Lee's office wrote to the INS on behalf of 31 constituents.
In the same period, Bentsen's office wrote on behalf of 101 residents. The other Houston-area lawmakers each wrote letters to assist between 61 and 84 constituents.
See link for rest of article.
Wait a minute. This may not be such a bad thing.
Huh? "Yale Education"? Hmmm,doesn't "the smartest woman in the world" have a "Yale Education",too?
LOL! Of course. Sloth on the part of marxists is a good thing.
Stay Safe !
They're a bunch of lazy slobs who spend their whole lives sucking at the teat of government. And what comes out of those teats is the taxes you and I pay.
No wonder even a well-meaning and seemingly perfect "conservative" GOPer can come off sounding every bit the RINO in election ads.
Case in point: The ad running here in Houston for Tom DeLay, arch-conservative, boasting about how much, how quickly and how desperately he wants to use OUR money to pay for prescription drugs for seniors.
NOTE: this isn't a personal dig at DeLay; he's simply one of the Godfathers. But the system corrupts even someone of his caliber.
TERM LIMITS NOW!!!!!!!
As a resident I probably should object to a comment like that. But then I stop and think about it as I am not really Sheila's constituent. For a conservative in her district it's almost like having no representative in Congress. And yes, the people who vote for her highness include more than their fair share of welfare slobs.
It'd definately be nice. The GOP opponent is a man named Philip Abbott. I plan on voting for him and doing what I can to help, even though it's uphill.
He said she doesn't worry about it, and she doesn't intend to change.
That can be loosely translated to mean "Hell I can replace these no nothing drones faster than they can print up their resumes. Who cares about them, they need this job more than I need them."
Stay Safe !
What are you, some kind of anti-government anarchist whacko?
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