Thursday, October 17, 2013

Another former agency Public Information Officer found it a hard row to hoe while employed with the TDCJ

By Duane Stuart, Backgate Website

With the Michelle Lyons (EX-TDCJ PIO) lawsuit still making it's rounds through the federal courts,and fresh on our minds, we decided to delve a bit deeper into the ins and outs of that position. Following the ousting of Michelle Lyons, the TDCJ appointed Mr. John Hurt to lead the agencies media relations outfit.

Hurt, who carries a resume listing 30 years of experience in media from working in media news rooms, to being the media face of the Texas Dept. of Transportation for 20 years, took his turn at the position and was gone before the ink was dry on his application.

After the allegations of discrimination, retaliation, and harassment brought forth by Lyons, we were curious as to why Mr. Hurt didn't stick around long following her departure. We caught up with Mr. Hurt and asked him why he chose to leave the agency so quickly, and what may have caused him, after all of his years of experience, to do so.

" My last interview was with Time magazine about the expiring execution drugs. When they found out, they positively came unglued that I did what I was getting paid for. They even admitted the interview read well, they just didn't want the issue in the media. They just wanted to keep issues like the CO shortage and the outdated execution drugs as far out of the media as possible. "  Mr. Hurt went on to explain " The admin suffers from intellectual incest. They all live in a little town, went to the same little college in Huntsville and are terrified of new ideas." Mr. Hurt then offered his ideas on how to change the face of the public information office and the agency in general.  "Moving the agency to Austin would be in everyone's best interest." " I tried to show them how to position themselves in a positive light and they didn't want any part of it. I've never worked in a stranger place."

All of which goes with what we have been saying here on this website since 1998. The agency has always presented themselves as a media disaster. The general lack of transparency, and the unwillingness to be truthful with the media and the general public has led to the gradual decline in  the reputation of the agency as a whole. Instead they insist on limiting information, dodging requests, and even offering blatant lies in place of the truth. Any reputable public company with such a position would surely be bankrupt and shuttered within 6 months if they offered the same disservice to the public. It may just be time for the largest public agency in the state to step up and change their image before it's to late. And if the current installed board of criminal justice, or TDCJ administration are unable to initiate that change maybe its time for Senate Committee intervention. I mean, surely the taxpayers who fund the agency, deserve the truth from the agency. Right? Mr. Hurt was the man that could have theoretically brought the agency into the 21st century and out of the dark ages. But as with most great TDCJ employees, they tend to migrate elsewhere to towards the path of least resistance. More to come.

Saturday, October 12, 2013

Ex-TDCJ Public Information Officer files appeal in suit against former employer

By Tonya Peters, Backgate Website

Michelle Lyons, who once composed the front line for the agency in matters regarding the media, has filed an appeal to the US 5th circuit court where her case is now being heard for gender discrimination. Lyons, who left the agency after being the center of retaliation and harassment by the agency after bringing forth information of wrongdoing to her superiors almost two years ago, was confident she would still have her day in court to describe her employment with the agency.

 The US District court hearing her case made a summary judgement and dismissed the case. Attorneys for Lyons immediately filed an appeal to the court to keep the case active. A decision is still pending.

The Huntsville Item newspaper released a story about the case on October 8th where they spoke about the dismissal, but not the appeal. No information on a source for the story was listed in the article, but sources tell the Backgate that present TDCJ PIO Jason Clark provided the information to the Item news through his office. Clark, who worked under Ms. Lyons during the alleged discrimination, is also listed in her lawsuit against the agency. The Backgate attempted to contact the reporter at the Item who wrote the article to verify but have received no response to date. Yesterday the Item published another article as an update to the first on the case that now includes the perspective of the Attorneys representing Lyons. The Backgate spoke with Ms. Lyons on October 9th regarding her case and she verified that the Item had never called her or her attorneys for a statement on the first story.

Lyons had been removed from her position as Director for public information with the agency after TDCJ stated that they had found a "discrepancy" on her time sheet she filed, she was subsequently demoted to a position that paid $14,000 less per year then her original position. That discrepancy, which was a method of time reporting done by several other employees and supervisors for years, didn't benefit the employees due to the fact that they were not payed overtime and were salaried employees. A fact said to have always been known and accepted by the administration.

 We believe the real reason Lyons was targeted was due to the fact that she, within the scope of her position, was issuing statements officially requested through the proper channels to this website for use in web stories. " Ms. Lyons was courteous, professional and never appeared to be hiding any information we were seeking through the proper channels within the PIO department" said Duane Stuart, the Backgate's site manager. " Apparently TDCJ looked down upon the fact that she was providing the information to us due to our longstanding reputation of providing TDCJ employees, as well as the taxpaying public and Legislators, with the good, the bad and the ugly occurring within the agency. I feel the actions against Ms. Lyons were based solely on that fact and not on the basis of some constructed disciplinary charge filed against her for improperly reporting of her time. It's obviously part of the common practice of the TDCJ to single out and retaliate against those employees who pose an issue to their widespread corruption and corrupted practices."  Stuart went on to say.

We have also reached out to Mr. John Hurt, who briefly also held the TDCJ PIO position following the removal of Michelle Lyons. He is now no longer a TDCJ employee. See what he had to say about it all coming up soon!

Friday, October 4, 2013

Texas law maker has set her sights on the Governor's mansion

By Tonya Peters, Backgate Website

 Wendy Davis, now nationally known as the Texas Legislator who filibustered to keep abortion rights at the forefront in the state, has now officially entered the Texas Governor's race. Can she garner enough votes to topple a Rick Perry style Republican? Davis, a Democrat, thinks she can. Will state employees support her ? What are your thoughts ?

Texas AG's Office sued by one it's own attorneys?

By Duane Stuart, Backgate Website

In a surprising turn of events within the Texas Attorney General's Office, one of it's own attorneys has filed a federal whistle blower lawsuit against the agency.

The whistle blower claims that he was retaliated against after uncovering and reported "illegal acts" within the agency. Sounds like some of the same issues that TDCJ is famous for doesn't it ?

See the entire story as written by the Austin American Statesman by clicking HERE!