Friday, May 11, 2012

TDCJ flak allegedly faced retaliation for treating blogger as 'media'

According to the Back Gate, a prison-guard run website, Michelle Lyons, the long-time chief flak at the Texas Department of Criminal Justice's public relations department, has "resigned after enduring retaliation and harassment by agency officials for several months." (She's been unenviably replaced, says TDCJ's website, by understudy Jason Clark.) The Back Gate reported that:
Michelle emailed us this statement [yesterday] morning;

"When I received the email from Duane [Stuart, a Back Gate blogger] on Friday and when I responded to him and everyone who he had originally copied on the message [ed. note: including state Sen. John Whitmire's office], it set in motion a chain of events. Within a couple of hours, my email account was 'frozen' and I was told I was under investigation. Before I was charged with failing to obey an order, I was told that I should not have responded to Duane because he is considered media. At this point, I would note that some time ago, I was tracking down an answer to a question Duane had asked me and I went to Mr. [TDCJ Deputy Executive Director Bryan] Collier. He asked why I was responding to Duane since "he's not media." It's interesting to me that he wasn't 'media' several months ago, but now he is? At the time, I said that while Duane may not meet the definition of media in TDCJ's own media policy, that he is a TDCJ employee and member of the public and that I respond to as many inquiries I can from the public in addition to those I receive from the media. That's exactly what  I did on Friday. I view it as responding to a message from a colleague about possible federal labor law and privacy violations and including on it my union representative and two state lawmakers. Why is that an issue?"

Michelle went on to say;

"I know that what I've gone through these last six months is similar to what so many other TDCJ employees have had to endure during their own tenures with the agency. I just really didn't understand until it happened to me. I'll never know exactly what initiated the discriminatory measures they took against me with my demotion and pay cut, but I can pinpoint that the retaliation began as soon as I questioned the way TDCJ requires employees to track their time and how they appear to be circumventing federal labor laws through some policies (although an agency policy obviously shouldn't trump federal law). Within two weeks, Mr. Collier told me 'I should have just fired you,' and it only escalated from there."
Fascinating! Certainly Lyons doesn't deserve to face retaliation over responding to legislators cc'd on an email from a blogger requesting information, if that's really the proximate cause. Whoever has her (former) job must play a dicey balancing game between a variety of competing, powerful interests, and I completely understand why - when they've already been told of the issue by Stuart - she'd see fit to let legislators see sensitive information from her first before it appeared on The Back Gate. Hell, that's PR 101.

Grits finds the institutional attitude toward blogs described in these excerpts quite telling, if regrettable, confirming a dismissive attitude I've sensed in the past. Bryan Collier doesn't consider blogs "media" so Lyons must couch her actions as "responding to a message from a colleague about possible federal labor law and privacy violations and including on it my union representative and two state lawmakers." IMO, though, she needn't contort in such a manner to justify what she did. The definition of "media" has changed in the last decade and The Back Gate surely qualifies. After all, they broke this story.

See more detail and Stuart's commentary at The Back Gate.


Soronel Haetir said...

I might not agree with you on plenty of policy points but I would certainly consider your activities for this blog to be fully part of 'media'.

Incandesio said... do you think TDCJ will stick by this classification? If I, as a blogger, requested permission to film an interview with a prisoner, would they seriously consider it?

Elizabeth said...

I was shocked by TDCJ's abusive treatment of a high-profile employee like Lyons. That is, until I remembered the agency's roots as the operator of post-Civil War slave plantations. I've never been to Collier's office. But if I ever do and see a bullwhip, I'm running.

sunray's wench said...

I've never had much respect for Ms Lyons until now. Anyone who could stand up and spout the TDCJ lines that she has over the years with a straight face, I felt, could have no conscience.

But this has obviously been her epiphany, and for her to speak up about it is probably the best thing she could have done.

It is interesting to note that TDCJ employees are officially banned from associating with felons, or friends and family of felons. In Texas, this is practically unavoidable, given the numbers of people in prison or under some form of supervision.

E I E I O said...

Bryan Collier, Deputy Director TDCJ, needs to resign for his illegal retaliation.

Michelle has done an excellent job and was loyal to the agency for many years. She helped keep the agency open and in good standings with the public.

It's too bad Collier never learned to read the agency's definition of a journalist or the Federal Whistleblower's Act. Contacting a union representative and a co-worker, who runs a blog, about illegal hourly wage issue (FLSA) and cc'ing it to a state senators and state representative, aren't issues an employer needs to discipline an employee over.

This is clearly retaliation. Brad Livingston needs to break out the taxpayers checkbook and start writing Michelle Lyons a settlement check, while Collier writes his resignation letter.

If Collier is not fired over this illegal retaliation, maybe it's time for Senator Whitmire to clean house, instead of giving them a chance like the last time they lied in his Committee. The sun might set on TDCJ because of personnel mismanagement.

I hope Senator Whitmire knows TDCJ upper administration tells employees the agency is messed up because of him, instead of manning up and taking responsibility for their own neglect.

jan lee said...

Ditto Sunray's Wench re: Ms. Lyons.

As the mother of a formerly incarcerated felon, I take issue with the idea that blogs are not media. Media is a means of delivering information and sites like BackGate deliver and provide unbelievably accurate "news" to both employees of TDCJ and the others of us who are or have been touched by TDCJ.
Some crazy people, like me, can't seem to lose interest even tho our
lives are no longer directly impacted. Our tax dollars do go to this mess of a penal system and I appreciate the blogs getting the truth out!

Anonymous said...

I think it's time we start emailing Whitmire's office and make him hold Collier and the rest of his cronies responsible for their completely unprofessional and illegal behaviors. This is down right despicable that my hard earned tax dollars is paying these idiots salaries. Whitmire definitely needs to clean house. Just like zero tolerance Whitmire has been spouting, there should be ZERO tolerance of such retaliation! Michelle, I wish you the best. You were an invaluable asset to TDCJ and I hope they eat crow behind their treatment of you. It just shows how no one is exempt from their ridiculous behavior!

Anonymous said...

Why is anyone surprised about this latest example of absolute power corrupting absolutely?
Hang in there Michelle, there is in deed life after TDCJ!You did a great job of being the public face for a troubled snake-pit of an agency with an unpopular task. You need to contact the EEOC, Whitmire and Madden, and an undisclosed attorney in Leander ASAP!
In regards to the Imp,[apologies to "Game of Thrones"],I recall TDCJ blatantly discriminating in the hiring and promotion of Mr. Collier, an act which cost over $100,000 in Taxpayer dollars.Someone truly needs to do a chronicle on how many millions of OUR dollars have been paid out by TDCJ over the last 20 years for employment and discrimination lawsuits.
As I've previously stated, the ant pile that is the self perpetuating TDCJ hierarchy needs to be kicked over and exposed to the light of day.

Twitch said...

She was just what she was a PR person, you couldn't expect anymore emotional exhibitions other than what you were requesting of her department; she's always been respectful with me and helpful.
Compared with the rest of those sluggards she stood out as human; I can't imagine what that crowd will come up with now!

Central Texas ABC

Twitch said...

I like the Ant Pile analogy "Anonymous".

jcfromnj said...

Didn't the Supreme Court say that the media is "Technology" as such, and if you posses the technology your "media" ?

john said...

There are at least a couple levels of corruption--the plain bottom communitarian kind where folks just don't want to lose their jobs (better-paying than what they could get in the diminishing private sector); and then the bosses whose arrogance exceed their competence--promoting not just the status quo but MORE power by any means necessary. There are way too few elected officials far and wide to oversee the bureaucrats; that's just all there is to it. Then the bosses interpret the rules expediently to their own benefit. That's the perfect example, of redefining the outsider's classification. It's like on the fed level, where they keep finding new Orwellian terms to (mis-)label citizens. Whoever is in power then announces their official---albeit corrupt, incompetent, agendized, etc.---determination and expects We The People to bow. I'd say over time it's been working pretty well for them.
Oaf, crap, CAPTCHA!CHA!

Anonymous said...

TDJC suffers from SVPD:
Systemic Vindictive Personality Disorder.

The story is the same from offender to high level management. Speak up and be Shut up.

As I do business with them I will remain Anonymous ( and I suggest you do too.)

Kevin Stouwie said...

Of course the blogger is a part of "media". You hit the nail on the head with this blog post.

According to, the definition of "media" is:

"Communication channels through which news, entertainment, education, data, or promotional messages are disseminated. Media includes every broadcasting and narrowcasting medium such as newspapers, magazines, TV, radio, billboards, direct mail, telephone, fax, and internet."

Read more:

In my opinion, a blog is usually just a very defined sort of media. grits, for instance, is a very useful and often read media source for criminal justice system information in Texas. The closest (old school) analogy would be a trade magazine, like those for people with very specific interests, such as model trains or those who are private pilots and own small airplanes.

I think if the woman's job was to deal with the media, she had every right, and maybe even a duty, to reply to the blogger's email. Very strange that she would be punished for doing her job.