Brown's Diss-functional City Hall Family

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

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.

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.

At last sighting, Dotson was still attending executive staff meetings and had not started to clean out her office for a rumored job in Philadelphia. Brown reportedly is considering bringing in the Dr. Feelgood of the administration, convention center chief Jordy Tollett, to try to calm down the troops once Dotson hits the road.

Two others watch from the side and keep their own company. They are Donald K. Hollingsworth, the mayor's drugs and public safety czar credited with recent miscues in municipal courts and the fire department, and Carol Alvarado, mistress of that nebulous realm of Brown bureaucracy, the neighborhood-oriented government nonprogram. At least the pair's romantic relationship ensures each is protected -- from the other. It's the equivalent of winning the immunity necklace on Survivor, since the mayor's crew could give lessons to tsetse flies in the fine art of surreptitious backbiting.

While Brown's many staff difficulties seem unrelated at first glance, a City Hall veteran says they are symptomatic of the mayor's style of nonmanagement.

"It is one big dysfunctional family, and he creates it," contends this source. "He sets up these situations where he gives people lines of authority that pit them against each other. At the top he's got [Chief Administrative Officer Al] Haines, who is similar to the mayor in that he's slow and not effective. Sort of a white Lee Brown."

A third-floor player with a surprisingly long life span is Marty Stein, the mayor's agenda director and wife of Bob Stein, theRice dean of social sciences. "She's shielded by the broad umbrella of Stein, and her ability to be all things to all people" is the analysis of this same source, who notes that when Brown joined the Rice faculty, Dean Stein was his boss. "Bob's part of the local political punditry, like Dick Murray at UH, and Brown's people are scared to death of him."

Charged with the task of keeping the staff's disastrous state from the public is veteran flack Jim Young, who dates back to the hoary old days of mayor "Gambling" Jim McConn. After several years, Young launched his own media company but came back to the city last September. Young was the assistant to communications director Monette Goodrich, a self-proclaimed Wisconsin cheesehead. The mayor introduced her to the media with great fanfare last year as the solution to his long-term failure to communicate.

Young was soon beavering away in traditional mayoral staff mode, waiting for a chance to climb up the ladder. Goodrich cooperated in the process with a series of blunders, including infuriating Haines by issuing a press release that made it appear Brown's financial staff had not anticipated a budget shortfall. It might have been the most accurate bulletin she issued during her tenure, but unfortunately not the most career-enhancing.

Let us pause for a brief moment of silence in remembrance of the mayor's dearly departed mouthpieces: Nick Rivera, Don Payne, Laurie Fickman (acting) and Monette. Anyone want to start an office pool on whether Mighty Jim Young makes it through the year?

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