CVC Staffers, Rouse Speak Out After Chief’s Ouster

Posted July 28, 2010 at 6:34pm

As the dust settles on a top-level firing at the Capitol Visitor Center, both the recently sacked CEO for visitor services and those accusing her of mismanagement are speaking out about Terrie Rouse’s tenure and the future of the multimillion-dollar complex.

Rouse was dismissed Tuesday after a three-year stint marred by standoffish relations with Members and employee discontent.

In an interview Wednesday, Rouse defended herself, saying she was implementing policies at the behest of Members. But she said she understands why people are irritated.

“I’m a turnaround specialist. I come into places to get things going, turn things around and then go on and do other things,” she said. “The nature of turnaround work, the nature of startup work, is you change people’s world. When you do change matters, inevitably people are going to be angry.”

“One expects there to be pushback,” she continued. “You expect people to not like that you changed their world.”

House aides said Rouse has retained a lawyer and plans to challenge the firing. Rouse declined to confirm that news but said, “I’m still working out the details of my continuing relationship with the Architect of the Capitol.”

A House aide characterized Rouse’s relationship with Members as “acrimonious,” citing her hesitancy to resolve issues at Members’ requests.

Rep. Robert Aderholt said some of the problems had been resolved by the time he became the ranking member of the Appropriations Subcommittee on the Legislative Branch in January.

“Initially there was some real disconnect with how the CVC operated and how Members’ offices interacted with the CVC,” the Alabama Republican said. “I do think it got better from what it initially was.”

But CVC employees said their situation only became steadily less tenable under what they referred to as “Rouse’s reign.”

They said she used intimidation and retaliation to punish employees, often for asking what she saw as disagreeable questions during staff meetings.

“At one meeting, she said, ‘It’s not my responsibility to be concerned with your morale. We pay you to smile,'” one tour guide said. “That one quote kind of summarizes some of the nasty stuff that she spewed. It was always kind of negative and cutting.”

CVC employees also complain of overpacked theaters, unsanitized headsets and no allotted research time. They’re required to wear the same wool uniforms rain or shine, they said. Employees were further disillusioned when a CVC supervisor recently decided to throw out a bag of white power labeled “anthrax” without first calling police.

One employee said the system for alerting them to any potentially dangerous incidents in the CVC is inefficient because they are notified over their radios, which they can’t listen to constantly while they speak on tours.

In June, 18 employees reached out to the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees to unionize.

Carl Goldman, executive director of AFSCME Council 26, wrote a letter to AOC Stephen Ayers on Wednesday urging that “in hiring a new CEO, the Capitol Visitor Center needs not only a change in personality, but also a change in management philosophy.”

On Tuesday, Ayers appointed Dan Cassil, formerly the deputy CEO for visitor services, to replace Rouse as acting CEO.

CVC employees say they hope he can resolve the problems, but at the same time, they say they’re skeptical.

“This is an opportunity for the AOC to sort of do things right,” one employee said. “That being said, I think that they’re just replacing a roof to a dilapidated house.”