Page Board in Turmoil

Posted December 7, 2007 at 6:28pm

Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) promised a thorough review of the security of Congressional page dorms Friday, after two Republican Members resigned from the House Page Board to protest what they called a lack of communication.

Reps. Ginny Brown-Waite (Fla.) and Shelley Moore Capito (W.Va.) announced their resignations Thursday. Their complaints are similar to ones aired by Democrats after Members discovered in 2006 that then-Rep. Mark Foley (R-Fla.) exchanged lewd correspondence with pages — mainly, that serious issues aren’t brought to Members’ attention quickly enough. After that incident, the House restructured its page board, expanding it from five members to eight, including a seat for an extra member of the minority party — all in an attempt to erase issues of poor communication and allegations of partisanship.

But now those issues have resurfaced with the expulsion of four pages. Two were sent home this fall for shoplifting, while the other two recently were expelled for participating in a public sexual act. Specifically, a female page gave a male page oral sex on a dorm elevator while other pages watched. Moreover, they were only caught after having similar sexual interaction for weeks in public areas of the dorm, according to several sources. Both pages were 16, Brown-Waite said.

Brown-Waite said her concerns over the incidents are twofold: She felt she wasn’t being kept abreast of the issues by House Clerk Lorraine Miller, and the pages seem to lack enough supervision.

“I hope it got Nancy Pelosi’s attention,” she said of her resignation. “The Clerk of the House has many duties. Maybe this is a duty that should be under someone with less responsibilities because I get the feeling it’s on the back burner.”

But Pelosi said the fact that the pages were expelled immediately is a testament to the reformed program. She also said the page board will conduct “an immediate and thorough review of the adequacy of the supervision and security at the page dorm.”

“As a mother and a grandmother, nothing is more important to me than the safety and security of our House pages,” she said in a statement.

Brown-Waite and Capito resigned after Thursday’s board meeting, which included a discussion of the sexual misconduct of the two pages. Although all board members were told of that incident in a timely manner, Brown-Waite said, she wasn’t satisfied by the explanation from the dorm director or the plan of what to do next. If there was more supervision of the pages, she said, she is confident several of those who observed the oral sex would have come forward sooner.

The problem came to a boil earlier this fall when several board members felt they didn’t hear soon enough about the shoplifting incident, which resulted in one page being charged with a felony, according to Brown-Waite. In a statement Friday, Rep. Dale Kildee (D-Mich.), chairman of the board, said a meeting was held on Nov. 9 to discuss the issue and it was decided that Miller would notify all board members of such matters immediately and simultaneously. And by all accounts, the entire board was notified of the recent sexual misconduct in a timely manner.

But multiple Democratic aides said Brown-Waite missed several of the seven board meetings that have taken place since April. And one questioned the purpose of the resignations.

“You don’t run from a fight, you try to fix it,” a senior House aide said. “If you want to make a change for the better in the page program, it doesn’t make sense to walk away from the board.”

Brown-Waite admits to missing at least one meeting and to not attending a tour of the dorm’s security earlier this year because of conflicts with her Congressional schedule. But it’s hard for all board members to make every meeting, she said, and the lack of proper supervision isn’t her responsibility.

“It’s not my job to run the page program and run it with appropriate supervision,” she said. “It’s the responsibility of the party in the leadership, and that’s not the party I’m in.”

Capito put out a statement on Thursday citing “problems with communication” that led to her resignation.

“Members of this board cannot productively tackle problems that may occur with our pages when questionable incidents are held from members of the Page Board,” she said in the statement. “There have been numerous occurrences this year in which board members have not received timely information, and it is my belief that to move forward we must start fresh with a truly open dialogue.”

In a statement, Miller defended the page program and her communication with board members. They are given updates at meetings, she said, and get frequent e-mails. The board meetings also have proved constructive and helpful, she said.

“That input has helped to further shape the program and has contributed to our expanded oversight and greater accountability,” Miller said. “I regret that Rep. Brown-Waite does not feel that these forums offered the opportunity to present her concerns and the insight that she has received from her discussions with parents and pages.”

Both Brown-Waite and Capito admit they resigned to gain attention. It worked: Minority Leader John Boehner (R-Ohio) will meet with the Congresswomen next week “to ascertain all the facts and determine the next steps,” Boehner spokesman Brian Kennedy said.

Capito, who had been on the board for several years, feels that there needs to be a structured plan for how to keep communication open between the board and the Clerk, spokesman Jon Coffin said. She hopes her resignation will bring “new blood” into the discussion.

“There needs to be some serious discussion about how to the open lines of communication,” Coffin said. “Her emphasis is on making sure there is an open dialogue on a process that she thinks needs to be addressed.”