Some Pennsylvania state workers told to toe the line on dress

Posted: May 21, 2011

HARRISBURG - Appearances matter, your mother always told you. One of Gov. Corbett's cabinet members wants to reinforce that message.

In a pair of memos in recent months, Welfare Secretary Gary Alexander has laid out do's and don'ts for his executive-level staff and a select circle of other employees when it comes to dressing for work.

Some are obvious: No flip-flops, sweatpants, tattered jeans, halter tops, short skirts, or skorts. (Do they make those for adult women?) And no beach attire.

Others may defy explanation for the female 45-and-under crowd: No open-toed shoes, please. And panty hose or tights are a must, which, taking the next logical step, presumes leaving your dress slacks at home.

A spokesman for Alexander said Friday that the guidelines were only meant to remind employees to always project a professional image when representing the department.

But the memos have irked some women who work in the Capitol. An aide in another agency, speaking on condition of anonymity, said: "Why did we burn our bras?"

It is the second time in as many days that actions of a Corbett cabinet appointee were fodder for watercooler jokes. The Capitol on Friday was abuzz about the words Secretary of Health Eli N. Avila was said to have directed at a local diner owner in an argument over the freshness of the eggs in his egg sandwich.

The restaurateur quoted Avila as saying loudly: "Do you know who I am? I am the secretary of health!" Weeks later, a city health inspector descended on the diner at Avila's request. Avila issued a statement saying he'd felt a duty to report "what he believed were unsanitary cooking conditions." On Friday, he again declined a request for an interview on the episode.

Others wasted no time having sport with the egg drama. The state Democratic Party swiftly spoofed the event in an animated video entitled "Reenactment."

At the Department of Public Welfare, spokesman Michael Race said Friday that his boss had not put a formal dress code in place.

Alexander did, however, recently e-mail about two dozen executive-level staffers, including deputy secretaries and executive assistants, telling them it was important to "establish an image for the entire department as well as the Commonwealth-at-large."

"He wanted to reinforce that these are people who interact with the public in their positions," Race said of Alexander, "and that he wanted them to put forth a professional presentation to the public."

Executive staff weren't the only ones told what to wear. Employees in a program that helps groom them for leadership roles were told by e-mail that to attend an April 27 luncheon featuring a speech by Alexander, they should wear "professional dress."

"For men, this means a suit and tie," the e-mail said. "And for women, this means closed-toe shoes and nylons or tights."


Contact staff writer Angela Couloumbis at 717-787-5934 or acouloumbis@phillynews.com.

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