A Democratic state representative from Houston lost her senior staff Thursday after the group collectively resigned following what they alleged was mistreatment and cronyism at the hands of their former boss.
In a letter to state Rep. Jolanda "Jo" Jones, D-Houston, the three former staff members accused the representative of knowing her son was having an inappropriate relationship with an office intern, which the former staffers said "displays disrespect for the workplace and diminishes the morality of the office." They also argued that the same son is also the general counsel for a lobbying outfit Jones is tied to and that his relationship with the intern represents a conflict of interest.
The letter was signed by Jones' chief of staff Kory Haywood, legislative director Catherine Mouer and district director Yesenia Wences.
Beyond the ethical issues, the staff alleges that Jones demanded of her state employees engagement in issues involving her family and personal life, including requests that staff "assist in the coordination of the terminal cancer treatment of [her]son's father-in-law" and involving staff "in [her] son's legal issues and criminal charges."
The resignation letter also claims Jones has engaged in "physically threatening behavior" in public, which made staff feel unsafe and made them unable to perform their duties.
Late Thursday, a person inside Jones' locked office at the Capitol referred The Texas Newsroom to a statement the lawmaker made to the local FOX News affiliate earlier.
"Working in the Texas Legislature is a stressful and demanding job, especially when you are in a daily fight to protect your constituents from attacks on their, their families, their civil rights, their schools, and their ability to control their own bodies," the statement to FOX26 reads. "Some on my staff have decided this job is not for them. I wish them good luck and success in their next endeavors.”
The staff also allege that Jones demanded rides to the airport in pre-dawn hours, disparaged staffers' family members and threatened to terminate staff members.
Cassi Pollock, a spokesperson for Republican House Speaker Dade Phelan, said in a statement the office learned of allegations against Jones on Wednesday.
"The allegations are under review by the appropriate entities, as outlined in the rules of the Texas House," the statement said. "The Speaker's office takes all allegations seriously and expects that this matter will be addressed and resolved as soon as possible.”
Brandon Rottinghaus is an expert on political scandals at the University of Houston. He said Jones could face serious consequences if the charges prove true.
"The Speaker can take away committee assignments if it's the case that he feels that the actions undertaken by Representative Jones have been too far or inherently problematic, or even criminal.”
He added that it’s rare for an entire staff to resign, and it shows things are “troublesome” in Jones’s office.
"Staff work is critical, not only in terms of prepping what the member knows, but in terms of communicating those ideas to other members,” Rottinghaus said. “If you don't have staff in place, it's going to be a real challenge to be able to negotiate and network through a very cumbersome legislative process."
The former staff's letter ends expressing regret for needing to depart Jones' office, but says they were left without options.
"We cannot allow anyone to be threatened or harassed, especially in a professional setting. It is time for you to show real leadership by taking immediate action to address these issues, rather than covering them up," they wrote. "We appreciate the opportunities that we have had during our time serving HD 147, and we apologize for any inconvenience that our resignations may cause. However, we feel that it is important to stand up for what is right and maintain our integrity as professionals."
They concluded by adding:
"It is time you own your S.H.I.T."
The line is a reference to the title of Jones' 2018 book "Owning My S.H.I.T. Suffering Hardship Internalizing Trauma."
Read the full resignation letter below, provided by The Texan:
Andrew Schneider contributed to this report.