Brown's Diss-functional City Hall Family

Drug testing and staff backstabbing have 'em dropping like flies

It seems there's never a dull week these days in Mayor Lee P. Brown's third-floor domain at City Hall. The latest stir came when his personal assistant recently dodged a random drug test, and then took one, but resigned before the results reached the mayor.

Of course, despite the possible drugs-in-the-workplace issue, the former federal drug czar's loyalty to 48-year-old Darcy Sparks Mackey ensured she wouldn't find herself beating the pavement looking for a new job. Brown was loath to let her go, and it was City Attorney Anthony Hall, staffers claim, who had to explain to the mayor that Mackey had violated an executive order by delaying the test and had to depart.

She didn't roll far from the nest, however. Mackey is now employed by the mayor's fund-raiser, Walden and Associates, to help solicit cash contributions for his re-election campaign.

Critics say Brown's management style may be behind his continual staff problems.
Scott Gilbert
Critics say Brown's management style may be behind his continual staff problems.

Mackey joined Brown shortly after he left his cabinet-level position in the Clinton administration in 1995 and returned to Houston with long-range plans that included running for mayor. He joined the faculty at Rice University and needed a full-time secretary to book the public appearances that would position him for his "Mayor of All of Houston" campaign two years later.

At the time, Mackey worked for Brown buddy Danny Lawson, a bus company owner and later a member of the mayor's transition team. Lawson lent Mackey to Brown, who installed her as secretary and gatekeeper after he succeeded Bob Lanier as mayor. She quickly proved her mettle at bureaucratic infighting, driving Waynette Chan, her rival for mayoral access, out of Brown's inner circle and into Public Works Siberia.

Other Brown staffers viewed Mackey as Lawson's direct line into the administration. Lawson, part of the mayor's kitchen cabinet, was in turn viewed as potential trouble for Brown because of his business wheeling and dealing in Houston and other cities.

The official line from the mayor is that Mackey voluntarily resigned to take the job with the Waldens. City Attorney Hall was a bit more forthcoming.

"All of that is personnel-related, and you know that that's confidential and a no-no," prefaced Hall. "What I can tell you is that she did resign, that she resigned prior to at least anybody in the city receiving any information about the results of a drug test.

"I think it's probably appropriate to confirm to you that, yes, she was given notice to go take [a drug test]. And only because she announced it to a number of people that she was given notice and did not go that day….She went around telling a bunch of folks at a party."

City employees subject to random drug testing are given notice that they must report to give urine samples within three hours or face indefinite suspension. According to City Hall sources, Mackey received the notice to take the test on a Friday morning but then went home.

She took the test the following Monday, and when the results were late coming back, she told the mayor about the situation. At that point Hall cautioned Brown that she had violated an executive order and could not remain on staff.

If someone flunks a drug test, says a city staffer versed in the testing procedure, the policy requires that a second test be conducted using urine left over from the first sample. The employee is always informed first of the results, effectively giving that worker time to resign before supervisors get the final word.

"When they say they need to retest, they won't say what the deal is," says this source. "But it sends a clear message that the test results are going to be positive. I think that's what happened. She got a notice from the doctor that results were unclear. So she went and told the mayor."

Both Hall and Brown later received the outcome of Mackey's drug exam, although the Houston Press could not confirm the results of that test. The city drug-testing policy states that an employee who consents to a drug test but fails to appear within three hours to submit the urine sample "shall be indefinitely suspended/terminated."

As a secretary, Mackey was subject to random drug testing only because she worked for the mayor. The city policy requires testing of municipal employees in positions where safety is an issue, such as in jobs operating heavy machinery. A specific order of the mayor makes all of his staff susceptible to tests, regardless of the types of jobs they hold. Elected officials as well as municipal judges are also subject to random testing.

Contacted at Walden and Associates, Mackey declined to answer questions, saying she would first seek advice from unspecified persons. She never called back.

A day later, former city attorney and sports authority legal adviser Gene Locke called Houston media lawyer Chip Babcock, apparently under the erroneous impression that Babcock represented the Houston Press. According to Babcock, Locke was trying to find out whether Mackey's confidential city personnel records had been leaked to the media.

Mackey's downfall is apparently just the beginning of Mayoral March Madness. Others among Brown's troops are laying odds how long Cheryl "Dead Woman Walking" Dotson will remain as his chief of staff. Brown reportedly gave Dotson time to secure a new job after she found herself caught in a familiar whipsaw between top administration figures eager to fob off blame for screwups on the nearest available target. The same thing happened to Dotson's predecessor, the departed Jay Aiyer.

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