Questions surround the termination of the commissioner of the one Texas state agency that can kidnap your child.
November 28, 2022, seemed like a normal day. Thanksgiving had ended, and most families were recuperating from the hangover of tryptophan (the chemical in turkeys that makes you sleepy) and Black Friday. It went almost entirely unnoticed on that day that Jaime Masters would no longer be commissioner of the Texas Department of Family and Protective Services (DFPS).
No reason was given for this change, which itself raised questions. Was Masters leaving for a better-paying position elsewhere? Was Abbott shuttling in new staff? As Texas Scorecard set out to answer this question, we encountered drama, mystery, finger-pointing, children at risk, broken families, and out-of-control bureaucrats. This investigative series resembles a combination of “Sherlock Holmes,” “Taken,” and “The Office.”
But unlike sitcoms, there is nothing funny about what was uncovered in this story. Unlike television or movies, the problems uncovered within a dangerous state agency won’t be all tied up within mere hours.
In June 2019, Daniel and Ashley Pardo lived through a parent’s worst nightmare when their 4-year-old child, Drake, was kidnapped before their very eyes. Unlike other kidnappings, they couldn’t go to their government for help, because their government did it.
Child Protective Services (CPS), an arm of DFPS, stole Drake, a child with developmental issues, from his loving parents based on the word of a doctor who, according to Texas Home School Coalition, had never personally evaluated or treated the child. On top of that, Daniel and Ashley were wrongfully placed on the Child Abuse Registry.
CPS later admitted in court that they had not checked all the boxes needed in order to forcibly take a child from his family. In October, the Texas Supreme Court ordered Drake be returned to his parents. Daniel and Ashley would have to wait until December 2020 to be removed from the Child Abuse Registry.
This case gained national attention. It brought CPS, and DFPS, under a microscope of attention. This also triggered the Texas Legislature to begin acting more to reform the rogue, anti-family agency.
In this environment, Gov. Greg Abbott (R) brought Jaime Delynne Masters into this drama.
Who Is Masters?
Abbott appointed her as DFPS commissioner on December 2, 2019, to replace Commissioner Henry Whitman, who had resigned. She previously worked as the chief of Health Services the acting COO for Jackson County, Missouri. Before then, from November 2014 to July 2016, Masters was deputy secretary for the State of Kansas Department of Children and Families. Before that, she was their director of economic and employment services.
In other words, Masters had roughly three years of experience with Kansas’ equivalent of DFPS when Abbott appointed her. She was brought in right when DFPS had become a political hot potato after their kidnapping of Drake Pardo.
“I know when she first came on, we were all kind of excited,” Carrie Wilcoxson, a Child and Family Case consultant and advocate, told Texas Scorecard. Wilcoxson is also a former CPS investigator. “We thought that with her background and being out of the state … she’s not going to be bogged down and bought in with some of the politics, and networking, and the who’s who that also play into this broken system.”
Wilcoxson came to be disappointed. “I essentially watched her PR campaign for the department. I didn’t ever see any real tangible changes take place at all.”
Fast forward to roughly three years later, and Masters was gone. Abbott temporarily replaced her with Associate Commissioner Kezeli Wold, while appointing Stephanie Muth to take the reins on January 2, 2023. Muth was previously the deputy executive commissioner for Texas Health and Human Services, from November 2011 to November 2017. She then became the department’s state Medicaid director until June 2020, before leaving to start her own consulting firm.
The timing of Abbott’s announcement of Masters’ departure was interesting. Late November is a time when most Americans have switched to holiday mode, making it easy to drop an announcement few would notice.
Earlier that month, evidence surfaced that DFPS remained hostile to families and family values. Masters’ termination came less than a week after Texas Scorecard exposed DFPS as a deep state entity. Their staff was rebelling against efforts to protect children from the dangerous practices of gender mutilation and hormone manipulation. That article was part of our series titled “Abusive Medical Procedures.” Part 1 examined the risks these procedures pose for children and adults. Part 2 exposed the deep state in DFPS fighting efforts to protect children. Parts 3 and 4 exposed well-connected lawyers and politicized medical practitioners also opposing these efforts. Part 5 featured discussions with subject matter specialists about how to protect children and adults in Texas.
Masters’ termination, and its timing, brought unanswered questions that warranted further investigation. That investigation took twists and turns, with shocking information showing up everywhere. It brought a definitive answer to the immediate question: Jamie Masters was fired.
It also culminated with a sad revelation: DFPS is an out-of-control state agency that is breaking up families, subverting parental rights, and kidnapping kids and exposing them to harm. Texas’ public servants have failed to hold this agency accountable.
‘The Dancing Men’
Unraveling this investigation was much like a mystery, and few fictional detectives stand out more than Sherlock Holmes. Created by author Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, Holmes has excited imaginations for years. One of his mysteries seems apropos for this situation: “The Dancing Men.” In this story, a married couple is harassed by mysterious drawings of dancing men appearing on their property. Eventually, the mystery reaches a crescendo when the husband is murdered and his wife is critically injured.
Holmes deduces that the drawings are a code, and only by continual collection and study is he able to decode them and trap the murderer.
As with this mystery, it took a continual gathering of facts until the code was cracked and questions were answered.
Any good mystery has a cast of characters, and this one doesn’t disappoint. Because of how many people are involved in this first chapter, below is an easy reference.
Jaime Masters: Former commissioner of the Department of Family and Protective Services (DFPS)
Luis Saenz: Former Abbott chief of staff
Julie Frank: Former chief of staff for Commissioner Masters; current deputy director of legislative affairs at the Office of the Governor (OOG). The office of State Rep. James Frank (R–Wichita Falls) confirmed there is no relation between Julie Frank and himself.
Anne Heiligenstein: Former commissioner of DFPS
Angela Comenero: Principal deputy general counsel at the OOG
Heather Fleming: Former director of budget and policy at the OOG
Madi Fletcher: Budget and policy advisor at the OOG
Sarah Hicks: Director of budget and policy at the OOG
Peggy Venable: Director of appointments at the OOG
As part of our investigation into Masters’ departure, Texas Scorecard sent open records requests to Abbott and DFPS.
From DFPS, we requested communications in Masters’ possession about her leaving and a timeline for her departure. “We have no responsive documents,” DFPS replied on December 9, 2022. That appeared to confirm that Masters did not leave willingly. Texas Scorecard made multiple attempts to contact Masters through her Facebook account, but she has not replied to date.
Far more was found from the Office of the Governor (OOG). We requested communications regarding Masters’ “resignation or separation” and a timeline for her departure (to determine if this was planned). Abbott’s staff released 24 pages of records but sought to withhold others by appealing to Attorney General Ken Paxton (R), which would block full transparency. It must be noted that there are known unknowns in this investigation.
The 24-page document contained a previously classified complaint filed by Masters to the OOG, dated October 19, 2022. The document also contains a previously classified OOG investigative report. The complaint was given to Peggy Venable, Abbott’s director of appointments. The OOG investigative report says Venable recalled Masters coming to her office “distraught and upset, as though she were on the verge of tears.” Masters “warned” Venable she’d spoken with a lawyer.
Contained in Masters’ complaint and the OOG report is finger-pointing among public servants: Masters apparently against everyone else. The exchange recorded in the 24-page document raised more questions about DFPS and the public servants who should be holding it accountable—namely, Gov. Abbott and the Texas Legislature.
In her complaint, Masters’ description of DFPS makes it sound like an incompetent federal level bureaucracy. She wrote about it having “a culture that was resistant to change” and “being busy with the politics and the administration rather than a laser focus on the children, families and caseworkers.”
“The staff appeared to be able to resist the change by slow rolling any legislative directives, knowing that every two to three years another Commissioner is appointed,” Masters wrote. According to her, Abbott had chosen her for this reason. “When I was hired, I was advised Governor Abbott wanted a change. The Governor didn’t want the department to run the way it had been.”
Apparently, things did not go well. Masters wrote that after Elizabeth Farley, the DFPS policy person, left in November 2021, “things immediately changed, but the environment was not hostile.” A year later, Masters alleged the environment had become hostile.
“It is with a heavy heart that I am writing this letter to make a formal complaint about the hostile environment at DFPS created by Luis Saenz, Sarah Hicks, and Heather [Fleming],” Masters wrote in her October 19, 2022, complaint. “I have received hostile and disparate treatment from such staff.”
The three individuals Masters named made up Abbott’s “executive leadership” at the time.
Saenz was Abbott’s chief of staff until November 17, 2022—11 days before Masters was sacked. He was replaced with Gardner Pate, who had been the deputy chief of staff. Saenz’ planned departure had been widely reported months earlier on April 19. Abbott continued to shake up his senior management team on December 1, and Hicks was promoted to senior advisor and budget director.
As a possible tell of what we would find later in this investigation, Masters fired off a triple-play virtue signal on page one of her complaint, stating she is “an African American, Female, and citizen of The Cherokee Nation.”
Peggy Venable told the OOG investigator that months earlier, Masters “unexpectedly contacted” her to inform her of her Cherokee Nation citizenship in order to insert it into her appointment file. “Peggy indicated that this was unusual and she had never known another appointee to do this,” the investigative report stated.
Texas Scorecard reviewed Masters’ complaint to determine the specific allegations she leveled at Saenz, Hicks, and Fleming. She alleged that while Abbott told her to straighten out DFPS, his staff resisted cleaning house. “Frank told me and the Deputy Commissioner that the OOG was concerned about me getting rid of all the institutional knowledge,” Masters wrote. “She stated the OOG wanted me to be a figurehead, not involved in the day to day operations.” Masters complained DFPS staff “were still fighting compliance” with orders passed down by the Legislature.
What follows is apparently a key point of friction and finger pointing between Masters and Team Abbott.
Masters’ chief of staff resigned in the fall of 2021, and Julie Frank took her place. Frank has an extensive resume in state politics. She was Abbott’s policy advisor from January 2018 to November 2019, and before then performed the same role for Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick (R). In the OOG investigative report, Sarah Hicks, OOG Director of Budget and Policy, admitted she had approached Frank about taking the position. Hicks said she thought Frank would be a good fit because of her “good reputation with the Texas Legislature” and her familiarity with Texas government. The latter was something Masters lacked. Hicks points out that Masters chose to hire her, and “at no time prior to hiring Julie [Frank] did the Commissioner express concern about Julie’s fitness for the position.”
Masters, however, claimed that Frank, who she said was also recommended by Abbott chief of staff Luis Saenz, turned out to be emotionally unstable. “One thing that has been consistent with Julie is her animated outbursts in staff meetings when I or anyone disagrees with her recommendation on how we should proceed,” Masters wrote. “One day she is happy, laughing and talking loud enough for the whole floor to hear, and then the next she is emotional and not speaking to me, the next she is crying and texting furiously with the OOG and the next she is all business again.”
Her concern about Frank communicating with the governor’s office is a recurring theme. Masters wrote when Frank first joined, executive staff “felt they could no longer talk openly during our meetings” with someone recommended by the governor’s office sitting there. In other words, they wanted to avoid transparency. Masters claimed she tried to assuage staff, not by telling them they have nothing to hide, but by telling them that Frank was working for her. “That is where her loyalty lies, and that she is not here to just report back to the OOG about what’s going on.”
Team Abbott, however, claimed Masters had accountability problems. “[Hicks] commented that transparency is expected of all agencies within the executive branch, and that DFPS is sometimes reluctant to share information,” the OOG investigative report stated. Hicks said she later met with Masters to make sure there was transparency between DFPS and state lawmakers.
More friction came to the surface. In May 2022, Masters claimed that, without her knowledge, Julie Frank secured an office in DFPS for Heather Fleming, former OOG director of budget and policy, to move into. Masters went on to allege Frank held a staff meeting so Fleming “could question them about CWOP [Children Without Placement].” CWOP refers to children in DFPS care who do not have a place assigned for them to stay in. “It appeared;[sic] Julie had led [Fleming] to believe that she could not trust my word,” Masters wrote. In the OOG investigative report, Fleming denied “she ever planned or intended to hold office at DFPS.”
Madi Fletcher, Abbott’s Budget and Policy Advisor, told the OOG investigator about Masters’ dislike of Frank “informing OOG staff of DFPS activities.” Fletcher said she had “several conversations” with Masters about the need for constant communication, and Masters seemed open to this initially. However, over time, she came to view these discussions as disciplinary and “became defensive.” Fletcher claimed Masters’ “failure” to keep Team Abbott updated forced them to “rely on Julie.” The OOG investigative report contained a damning statement: “Madi [Fletcher] does not feel that she can trust the Commissioner to be honest.”
Masters wrote Frank said she was placed in DFPS so that she would be the point of contact, “and that they no longer expect to talk to you … Sarah [Hicks] and Heather [Fleming] view you as the problem child and no longer believe you have the skills to run the department.” On top of that, Masters claims Frank stated “the OOG sent her to fix the department.” “Julie has repeatedly stated to me and others that I need to understand that I’m not in Kansas anymore and I can’t talk to Luis [Saenz] when I want,” Masters wrote. “He has other issues more important.” Masters claims she brought up Frank’s “no longer to talk with you guys” comment with Hicks and Saenz in April 2022, and that Hicks’ response was “that isn’t exactly the case.” In the OOG investigative report, Saenz said he had “regular meetings” with Masters and never had concerns about her reaching out to him. He also “never witnessed” Masters “treated unfairly,” and he was professional and “never disrespectful” to her.
Masters’ offense against Julie Frank in her complaint was relentless. She wrote that her executive staff claimed Frank shouted “the ‘C word’” from her own office, and that another staff member said Frank communicated with others regarding “her hole.” When a male staff member “looked at [Frank] curiously,” “she motioned around her midsection and stated, ‘this hole’ and then grabbed her crotch and stated ‘not this hole.’” Masters wrote she didn’t personally address the issue because of Frank’s connection with Hicks and Abbott chief of staff Saenz.
Masters claimed Frank spread rumors about her. When she learned of this, Masters’ response was to request a management review from Human Resources Director Mathis Hale. One was done April 7-8, 2022. Texas Scorecard obtained this review through an open records request to DFPS. 11 members of the executive team, and a former member, were interviewed about Masters’ performance. All said they weren’t afraid of her, nor were they afraid of “bringing issues or concerns” to her. Two said she was a micromanager. “She is so busy, she doesn’t have time to micromanage,” another staff member wrote. Yet another claimed that “she has trust issues, so she has to micromanage.”
In the OOG’s investigative report, Sarah Hicks said that “after some time” Masters did express concerns about Frank, but Hicks denied giving “any feedback or response.” The frustration between Masters and Frank turned out to be mutual. Hicks said Frank came to her as well, and was frustrated Masters was “not listening to her or heeding her advice.” Hicks said she only responded with encouragement to “hang in there” and that her work was appreciated.
Conflict with State Lawmakers
Masters alleged more subversion in her complaint. She wrote that in late January 2022, an upset Frank told her that the governor’s office “is not going to support you like you need them to.” Apparently this message wasn’t surprising. Masters wrote that ”I and the department have always been treated differently than [Health and Human Services].” She also claimed that “several employees” had said Frank informed each of them that Masters would be either fired in December 2022, or not confirmed again by the Legislature in the 2023 session. However, the OOG investigator noted in his report Peggy Venable said Masters told her, around September 2022, that she “might resign.”
Saenz, Abbott’s Chief of Staff, told the OOG investigator that Masters had “confronted him” about comments that the OOG was going to sack her, and that his response was that “he would not fire her through Julie [Frank].” Saenz added “he never told Julie anything that he didn’t also share with the Commissioner.”
Concerns about Masters’ popularity with state lawmakers appear to be substantiated. In the OOG Investigative Report, both Hicks and Saenz mentioned that state lawmakers were concerned about her, and had personally “approached” Saenz about it. Hicks said that the Chair of the House Human Services Committee, State Rep. James Frank (R–Wichita Falls), and the Chair of the Senate’s Health and Human Services Committee, State Sen. Lois Kolkhorst (R–Brenham), met with Abbott’s staff to discuss this. Only James Frank’s name was explicitly mentioned in the the 24-page document. Both Hicks and Saenz said they defended Masters to state lawmakers.
The OOG investigative report contains an interview with Angela Comenero, Principal Deputy General Counsel at the OOG. She “acknowledged that Commissioner Masters has a poor reputation among the Legislature. In particular, she personally witnessed a House member refer to the Commissioner as ‘all talk, no action.’”
Recent Texas history suggests that, if a threat existed that the Legislature would nix a Masters renomination by Abbott, that would be sufficient motive to can her. Lt. Gov. Patrick and the Texas Senate rejected Abbott’s appointment to Secretary of State in 2017. After this, Abbott repeatedly made temporary appointments in order to sidestep another rejection, until he appointed former State Sen. Jane Nelson (R) to the post. Her nomination was approved unanimously by senators in March 2023.
In early May 2022, Masters wrote she met with Hicks, Fleming, and Saenz, where she again brought up Julie Frank. Masters complained Frank was regularly communicating with Fleming “to report every move I made and I can’t deal with her roller-coaster moods of speaking one day and the next acting as if she detests me.” Masters claimed Saenz dismissed her concerns and honed in on what happened at a recent Senate committee hearing. “He said he heard members were very upset with me. I stated the conversation was spirited at times but I have texts to show we are working together.”
A key difference between Masters’ complaint and statements from Abbott’s staff are over people like Frank brought into DFPS. Masters called this counter-productive, while Abbott’s staff claimed Masters kept asking them for help.
Saenz said he believed Frank and former DFPS Commissioner Anne Heiligenstein could bring much needed support for her. Masters commented on Heiligenstein joining as executive deputy commissioner through May 2023. “Luis also stated this was for my success … For [the] last two years I have been telling the OOG what I need for success … an additional executive member wasn’t one of them.”
Masters had known Heiligenstein during her time in Kansas. She called her a “confidant” since coming to the Lone Star State. Still, Masters claimed she wasn’t happy with this appointment, writing that it “created so much chaos in the State office … staff believe I am going to be fired and that Anne will be the next Commissioner. They were confused about who they report to and who could give them directives.” She alleged in the next paragraph that Heiligenstein had told others Saenz said she can do as she pleases, and Masters could quit if she disapproved.
Masters’ recollection contradicts statements made in the OOG’s investigative report.
Hicks said Masters “complained that issues involving children without placement (CWOP) were taking up too much of her time.” At a spring meeting, she recalled that it was suggested Heiligenstein be brought in to help carry the burden. The report cites Hicks’ understanding was that Masters was “on board” with this, “even excited.” She doesn’t “recall” Masters voicing any doubts about Heiligenstein during the meeting. Heather Fleming, in the OOG investigative report, stated that Masters “asked multiple times for help, including in public meetings and forums.” Fleming also said Masters “often admitted that she did not know answers and would state ‘we can’t do this alone; we need help.’” Fleming concurred with onboarding Heiligenstein, and that Masters “did not seem offended and never disagreed” with the idea. Saenz told the OOG investigator that he believed Frank and Heiligenstein “could help her,” that Heiligenstein “would have decision making authority,” and that Masters “expressed no disagreement.” Saenz also said “he had no intention of replacing Commissioner Masters.”
The OOG Deputy General Counsel also chimed in. Comenero recalled in the OOG investigative report that in an April 2022 meeting, Masters “complained of being unable to find help, and stated that she couldn’t do her job alone.” Saenz then told Masters “of a plan to bring in” Heiligenstein. Comenero said Masters was “excited and incredibly thankful,” and was “unaware of any subsequent rifts in the employment relationship between Julie [Frank], Anne [Heiligenstein], and Commissioner Masters.” Comenero added she didn’t know whether OOG provided opinions about the matter.
At least one individual definitely disagreed with Heiligenstein’s return: Carrie Wilcoxson. “When I was an investigator, [Heiligenstein] was the commissioner, and it was a mess,” she told Texas Scorecard. “It’s why I resigned.” Wilcoxson wondered why Abbott “keeps sending people” like Heiligenstein to DFPS.
Upon arriving, it looks like Heiligenstein may have tried to take Julie Frank off of Masters’ hands. Masters recalled Heiligenstein asked to have Frank “assigned to her and she would keep her in check.” Masters later wrote this was undone by the OOG. Later, Masters said she removed Human Resources from Frank “due to her struggles with confidentiality, the inappropriate behaviors I observed and the numerous complaints from staff.”
As documented above, these records show a conflict between Masters and Team Abbott. Masters claims she got help that was subversive, and Abbott’s staff claims she asked for help, only to complain after getting it.
There was another incident where Heiligenstein allegedly met with two state lawmakers to discuss DFPS behind Masters’ back. Masters was not scheduled to join, and had a scheduling conflict. “When I returned to the office, the meeting was wrapping up and it was clear the legislative member was frustrated with the information Anne [Heiligenstein] shared,” Masters wrote. She claimed she later sided with the unnamed lawmaker, who later communicated with Masters that “he’s not stupid and wasn’t buying the rationale given.”
Masters later wrote that Madi Fletcher wanted “to know why we had not let her know that a member [of the Legislature] was angry with us and that she can’t do her job if not kept in the loop.” Masters claimed this confrontation was “rehearsed” and “felt like a trap.” She wrote the lawmaker in question was not angry with Masters’ personally. “She [Fletcher] framed it as though the member was angry with me; to the contrary, he was frustrated by the explanation Anne [Heiligenstein] had given him about what had been presented.”
Such claims conflict with statements from Abbott’s staff about state lawmaker concerns with Masters.
The Office, Texas Style
Masters repeatedly painted Frank as an individual with emotional incontinence. In March 2022, she wrote Frank broke down in tears when a candidate for DFPS’ Chief Financial Officer backed out of accepting the job offer. Masters found Frank’s response curious, and accused her of sowing dissent. “Julie [Frank] didn’t really know the candidate and the vacancy didn’t impact her day-to-day duties,” she wrote. “Julie surmised to staff that the candidate must have learned of the Commissioner’s incompetency.”
In her April 2022 meeting with Hicks and Saenz, Masters said both declined her offer to look at staff notes about Frank’s “numerous statements” that concerned her. Masters also wrote she mentioned staff concerns about Frank possibly being an alcoholic. “Luis stated … that [Frank] was his friend and he was also friends with her husband,” she wrote. “He stated Julie [Frank] would continue to work at the department and if not, he would bring her to the OOG and put her over something for DFPS. I took that as a threat.” Afterwards, Masters claims Frank told the DFPS Deputy Commissioner that Saenz had called her, told her what Masters said, “that I had made a big mistake,” and that Frank was safe.
She added, as Julie Franks’ “behaviors” were concerned, Frank “tried to be more controlled,” but the problem persisted.
In the OOG investigative report, Saenz “recalled Commissioner Masters complaining of Julie’s language and drinking.” His response was that Frank shouldn’t be fired, because she is “beneficial and was helping DFPS with the Legislature.” Saenz claimed in the OOG report that his insistence Frank shouldn’t be fired was not based on their friendship, mentioning he himself had previously fired friends.
This office drama came to a head when Masters fired Frank in October 2022, and filed her complaint to the OOG in support of that decision. Frank is currently employed in the Governor’s Office as deputy director of legislative affairs. The OOG investigative report notes Angela Comenero said, regarding Frank’s firing, that she was “respected by the OOG, yet the OOG did not involve itself in the decision.”
Masters made sure she didn’t go quietly into the night. She gave what seems to be a last ditch effort to cling to power. “I want to be treated like every other commissioner and department head who is allowed to lead with the authority and autonomy that comes with the position and without executive staff and subordinates dictating to me how I will run the agency,” she complained. “[Frank] has stated she is good friends with the Lt. Governor’s new Deputy Chief of Staff, who told her the Senate is not going to confirm me this summer and that the [Governor’s Office] has been discussing getting rid of me for some time and it will be done before the session begins.”
Masters ended her complaint by claiming she feared retaliation if she spoke with Saenz directly. “My attempts to address this professionally and privately was met with threats and hostility,” she claimed. “Since Luis and the other staff are clearly compromised due to their relationship with Julie, they cannot be objective in responding to this claim.”
Punching over Personnel
As noted earlier, issues were not isolated to Masters’ relationship with Frank. Masters alleged multiple times that Heiligenstein inserted herself into other personnel matters.
She wrote that in October 2022, Heiligenstein jumped into incentive raises to stem the turnover at Child Protective Investigations (CPI) and briefed Abbott’s staff before briefing Masters. Masters said the two eventually butted heads about whether or not to include Child Protective Services (CPS) in the incentive raises program. Heiligenstein was against it, as CPS turnover wasn’t as high as CPI. Masters claimed such a move “would be a slap in the face, and it would surely cause a surge in staff resigning.” This conflict later enveloped Julie Frank and others, with Masters demanding CPS be included in the raises.
Masters claimed she and Heiligenstein also butted heads over staffing decisions, like filling the position of CPI associate commissioner. Heiligenstein recommended a DFPS staff member for the role, but Masters said no. Masters claims both Heiligenstein and Frank went behind her back to Madi Fletcher at the Office of the Governor to try and block her decision. “At that point, I felt so defeated and totally depleted of my authority to do the job I was hired to do,” Masters wrote. “I am certain no other commissioner has chains on them like I do, or do other commissioners suffer this disparate treatment?”
Masters also alleged Heiligenstein tried to bring outside consultants into DFPS without her knowledge. “I met with Anne, and told her I need to approve any consultants she brings on and I need to understand what they are doing to ensure it is allowed,” she wrote. “I also told her the consultants she brought on to determine how CPS would be structured needed to go. It is inappropriate to task an outside agency with that without consulting me.”
Apparently these consultants were former staffers. Masters claimed staff were concerned about “bringing back all these previous employees,” and that doing so was “undoing the changes I have made in response to legislative concerns, foster-care litigation and the direction child welfare is going.” Moreover, Masters said her general counsel cautioned “numerous times” that Heiligenstein is “not a DFPS employee, but a consultant on loan from Casey Family Programs,” and so shouldn’t speak for the state agency. Casey Family Program’s lawyer is claimed to have said Heiligenstein can’t “be involved in personnel, lobbying,” or certain other areas.
Texas Scorecard sent a request for comment to Casey Family Programs about Masters’ allegations regarding Heiligenstein. They’re headquartered in Seattle, with offices in Texas and elsewhere nationwide. They replied on March 20, 2023:
Casey Family Programs would like to acknowledge that the state of Texas requested our assistance, which we are happy to provide in support of the state’s efforts to improve the lives of children. We would also like to recognize Governor Abbott for being proactive in his efforts and commitment to serving the families of Texas.
As the nation’s largest operating foundation focused on safely reducing the need for foster care in the United States, we welcome the opportunity to assist state child welfare agencies in their efforts to improve — and ultimately prevent the need for — foster care.
They asked further questions be sent to DFPS Deputy Commissioner Jennifer Sims.
Coming to a Head
Time was running out for Jamie Masters, and she knew it.
On October 11, Masters said she confronted Heiligenstein about going behind her back on her own hiring decision and allegedly keeping her in the dark about personnel changes and policy changes “for an area that has significant” legislative attention. The next day, Masters claimed an employee informed her that Frank “told her and several others I and my team would all be fired in December.” As reported earlier, Masters was fired on November 28, 2022.
Masters went into full defensive mode. “After hearing all that and dealing with what I have, I went to see the HR Director to express my concerns about being in a hostile work environment,” she wrote. “Of equal import, several of my staff have advised that the environment has become toxic and hostile due to these outside influences and is impacting their ability to [do] their job and their physical wellbeing.”
On October 18, Masters claimed that, according to Frank, “the last straw” for Madi Fletcher, Abbott’s Policy Director, was when Masters hadn’t gotten her “approval” for a particular hire.
In the OOG investigative report, dated October 28, 2022, Abbott Chief of Staff Saenz said she had “contacted him in recent months” asking if Abbott would renominate her as DFPS commissioner. Saenz said he wasn’t certain if they had the votes in the Texas Senate.
Reading the ‘Dancing Men’
Texas Scorecard has laid out the contradictory statements of Masters’ complaint and the OOG’s investigative report. In the end, the OOG investigator wrote he was “unable to substantiate” Masters’ claims of “hostile and disparate treatment” by any of Abbott’s staff. He was also “unable to substantiate” that DFPS had a “hostile work environment” because of OOG staff.
There was another finding of note. “Based on my investigation, I believe that significant issues within DFPS warranted careful oversight by the OOG,” the report stated.
Team Abbott also wrote they had done their best to support, not subvert, the former commissioner. Hicks “asserts that the OOG has gone ‘out of their way to help and advocate for [Masters].’” Comenero said the OOG had “gone ‘above and beyond’ to get DFPS and Commissioner Masters needed resources, including the services of Julie and Anne.” The report notes that “Heather [Fleming] described the Commissioner as taking matters personally at times and becoming defensive,” and “she recalled the Commissioner stating that no one ‘had her back.’” Fleming insisted that the OOG “had a real desire to provide DFPS” and Masters “with needed help and resources.”
Texas Scorecard repeatedly asked Abbott for comment about both the 24-page document they provided us and Masters’ termination. We also sent an inquiry to Julie Frank. No response was received from either before publication.
The contradictory statements and testimony by multiple witnesses could lead one to believe that Masters was the problem at DFPS. But then again, the investigative report was done by the Office of the Governor, not an independent third party. Like the Sherlock Holmes’ mystery, we have a number of dancing men in a message not yet fully decoded. The only way to decode it is by gathering more coded messages. But where to look next?