Heard on the Hill: Steven Palazzo’s Hill Staffers Gone Wild
Someone in the office of Rep. Steven Palazzo (R-Miss.) apparently mistook Annapolis’ genteel waterfront for Panama City Beach.
Palazzo had invited friends and family to Annapolis, Md., for a tailgate party leading up to the Southern Mississippi-Navy football game during the Columbus Day weekend.
But the real blowout happened at a waterfront home rented for the Congressman by his scheduler, Whitney Donald, an event that morphed into a two-night party attended by a host of unruly House aides. The scene became festive enough that local police were called on the second night.
Sources close to the Congressman insist Palazzo and his family never stayed at the rental property in question, nor asked staffers to reserve the house.
“The Congressman at no time asked someone on staff to book a house for him,” Palazzo’s chief of staff, Jamie Miller, tells HOH.
But multiple members of his office staff did stay at the house that weekend.
And the ensuing shenanigans guaranteed that the security deposit, which was put on a credit card with a Cannon House Office Building billing address, was forfeited.
Following the fracas, at least two Palazzo staffers, Donald and Richard McKay, tried to run interference, going as far as to put someone up to impersonate the Congressman over the phone to the irate homeowner. They also offered Southern confections as conciliatory countermeasures.
“The Congressman has been made aware that there has been some potential misconduct,” Miller says, “and [knows] we are looking into it.”
Miller and Palazzo’s communications director were made aware of the incident more than two weeks ago, and Miller assured the property manager for the house during the week of Oct. 24 that those responsible would be taken care of.
Miller confirmed Monday that Donald and McKay will no longer be working for Palazzo.
Neighbors say it became clear on that Friday night that the weekenders next door were looking for a good time.
A neighbor returned home around 9:30 p.m. Oct. 7 and discovered a “frat house” scene at the rental property, with people carousing outside.
The neighbor shrugged it off until about 11:15 p.m., at which point he stepped out on his deck and asked the revelers to settle down.
“Who the f— is that?!” one partygoer barked. The neighbor reiterated his plea for peace and quiet at 11:30 p.m. — with the caveat that the cops would be called as a last resort. That persuaded the party attendants to retreat inside, where they kept at it for at least an hour and a half.
The following morning, a young man who introduced himself as “Jason” went to the neighbor and “profusely” apologized for the disturbance. “He must have said sorry about 11 times,” the neighbor said.
As part of his mea culpa, the young man divulged that the occupants were all overzealous Hill staffers who had gotten a little crazy because their boss had never materialized.
“When we found out that he was not coming down with his family and kids, we decided to let our hair down,” Jason said, according to the neighbor.
The young man insisted to the neighbor that it would not happen again Saturday night.
When the good times resumed that evening — “There were bottles on the front stoop, bottles on the bumpers of the car … and a young man wandering around out front in his boxer shorts” — the neighbor gave the out-of-towners one more warning, at 11 p.m., before phoning the police.
Meanwhile, after being blindsided by noise complaints Friday night, the property manager called Donald on Saturday and demanded an explanation. Donald feigned ignorance, insisting that she, Palazzo and his family had been asleep at the house by 10 p.m.
When the property manager went Sunday morning to formally evict everyone, Donald said Palazzo had caught a flight that morning. Later, Donald’s story shifted again when she swore Palazzo and his family flew out Saturday to tend to his sick mother-in-law.
Monday morning following the brouhaha, the upset homeowner and property manager say they began contacting Palazzo’s office. According to both parties, Donald derailed every attempt to speak directly with the Congressman or a senior staffer.
The scheduler repeatedly spoke to the annoyed parties — over email and by the telephone — insisting she alone was the end-all-be-all point of contact.
“The only person you should be speaking with concerning the home is me,” Donald wrote to the property manager in a late-night email from her official House account on Oct. 9.
When Donald learned the property manager was also calling Palazzo’s district office, she fired off another email. “There is no one in our district office that you need to speak with,” Donald wrote Oct. 11. “All contact should be with me.” (Settle down there, bossy-pants.)
When the homeowner threatened to go to the media, Donald had another person call and pretend to be the Congressman.
Interestingly, Donald isn’t completely clueless about appropriate staff behavior.
“I work for a United States Congressman,” she wrote in one email. “And in no way, would I jeopardize my livelihood and my career for a football game weekend in Annapolis. I cannot (under law) use my boss’ name under false pretences.”
Donald promised to write the homeowner a handwritten apology and send an “array” of Southern Mississippi pecans.
Neither the property manager nor the homeowner had received an apology from Palazzo at press time. No word on the pecans, either.