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State department employees threatened with termination: House Speaker considers subpoenas

February 27, 2003
By: David Bryan
State Capital Bureau

JEFFERSON CITY - Missouri's House Speaker said she is considering subpoening administration officials to investigate possible threats to fire state department employees for discussing budget ideas with legislators.

House Speaker Catherine Hanaway, R- St. Louis County, along with other Republican House leaders charged Thursday that gag orders have been issued to keep state workers from offering ways to cut the state's budget.

"For department directors and employees to be instructed not to answer an elected senator's or representative's question about how to reduce the department's budget is an outrage," Hanaway said.

A memo anonymously given to state legislator by an employee of the Natural Resources Department stated that any state department employee who discussed budget ideas with legislators would be fired.

"THIS IS A FIRING OFFENSE," reads the unsigned memo or notes from a Feb. 20 meeting.

Connie Patterson, DNR spokeswoman, said that the DNR did not issue such a memo and did not know where it originated.

But Republicans said they had heard of similar threats to employees in other government agencies.

The governor's office denied that they had anything to do with threatening to fire state employees.

Holden spokesperson Mary Still said state department employees are free to propose budget cut ideas with legislators and that it is wrong to threaten the jobs of anyone who does.

"I can assure you, no information from this office has ever been presented that would discourage our directors from providing facts and figures and information along requests to the departments," Still said.

Hanaway said that the governor needs to do more than simply deny his involvement with the memo.

"He needs to affirmatively go forward and direct these department directors to comply with the requests of the appropriations chair, and to do so on a timely basis," Hanaway said.

"So far we have been met with great resistance and our requests have been ignored. This memo explains why our questions are still unanswered, she said."

But State Budget Director Linda Luebbering said the governor has already incorporated the necessary agency recommendations into his budget.

Rep. Mark Bruns, R- Jefferson City, said that the DNR is not the only place he heard of such threats.

He said legislators were also being contacted by employees of various other state departments including those of Public Safety, Mental Health, Education, and Corrections. These state departments, according to Bruns had been warned not to discuss budget ideas.

Missouri law prohibits any effort to gag state employees. State law also gives the House speaker broad subpoena powers to compel testimoney before House committees.

Hanaway said sets of subponeas were possible -- one to get budget information for the House Budget Committee and the other for a joint House-Senate investigation into the gag-order allegations.