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House staffer quits over lost perk

The 64-year-old loses a coveted parking space after he has concerns about adding a 161-page bill to a crowded agenda.

By LUCY MORGAN

© St. Petersburg Times, published April 14, 2000


TALLAHASSEE -- In the state Capitol, you know you are in trouble if your parking place disappears.

Nothing is more valuable than the turf underneath the 22-story Capitol, where key players leave their cars and ride elevators to their offices.

That's what happened this week to Jimmy Helms, a 64-year-old staff director of the House Government Operations Committee.

A state employee for 39 years and a House employee for the past 26, the parking place was one of several final straws that drove him to resign Wednesday from his $104,616 a year job.

"It's probably time I did that," Helms said from home Thursday.

His problems started late Monday afternoon with a telephone call from Steve McNamara, a Florida State University professor who has taken a leave of absence to work as chief of staff for House Speaker John Thrasher.

Helms said McNamara wanted him to put a 161-page bill on the agenda for Tuesday's committee meeting.

The committee agenda already included 21 bills to be heard in an hour and 45 minutes, and the meeting was to be followed by a lengthy meeting on a controversial growth management bill.

The 161-page bill, sponsored by Rep. Frederick C. Brummer, R-Apopka, had not been heard by any other committee and lacked a staff analysis, which would enable committee members to understand it, Helms said. The bill, now scheduled for a hearing Monday, would reorganize the state Parole Commission.

Just as he was trying to figure out how to deal with the bill, Helms said, Committee Chairman Bill Posey and Brummer arrived in his doorway. Posey called the speaker's office and advised Helms the bill could be heard by the committee at a special meeting next week.

On Tuesday, Helms said, he got a call asking him to meet with McNamara later the same day.

That's when Woody Morgan, a deputy sergeant-at-arms, walked in to tell Helms his parking place had been reassigned to Lot D over on Madison Street, outside the Capitol.

Helms went to see McNamara at the appointed hour and was kept waiting for almost an hour before being told to come back Wednesday.

"So I went back downstairs and got to thinking," Helms said. "I've worked 26 years in the House, a total of 42 in public administration. I've been working pretty hard this year, 190 bills were referred to my committee. I did not think I had been treated well."

So on Wednesday Helms went in and drafted a resignation letter. He never met with McNamara.

On Thursday, McNamara said he has accepted the resignation.

"We don't hold people in indentured service," McNamara said. "He resigned."

McNamara said he took away Helms' parking place inside the House office building because some women who have to work late at night needed a place to park and Helms often drives to work with his wife, India. She works for the House Minority office.

"Jimmy remembers what he wants to remember," McNamara said. "I let him quit. I've waited longer to see him than he waited for me."

Helms was told to put a bill on an agenda, McNamara said.

"When a speaker requests a bill be heard, it gets done," McNamara said. "I suspect he felt he'd get more than a tongue lashing and he chose to put the knife in himself."

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