House clerks put idle time to veterans’ benefit

The Colorado Statesman

If idle hands are the devil’s playground, as the expression goes, he’ll find no haven in the offices of the assignable clerks of the Colorado House of Representatives.

Pat Worley, chief assignable clerk, holds out a finished robe with Beverly Mills and Joyce Kontas.
Photo by Marianne Goodland/The Colorado Statesman
The hands of Kathy Halm, putting on the finishing touches.
Photo by Marianne Goodland/The Colorado Statesman

Photo by Marianne Goodland/The Colorado Statesman

Photo by Marianne Goodland/The Colorado Statesman
Beverly Mills and Mary Kittler get ready for a morning’s filing with the hundreds of bills going to House lawmakers.
Photo by Marianne Goodland/The Colorado Statesman

For the past two sessions, the assignables, as they are known, have kept their hands busy during their idle time sewing lap robes for disabled veterans.

The assignables are responsible for filing thousands of pieces of paper on behalf of legislators every session. Chief Assignable Clerk Pat Worley told The Colorado Statesman that in one recent session they filed nearly 200,000 pieces of paper. That was just the first time those papers were filed, and doesn’t count the amount of paper that must be refiled at the end of each day, a requirement for the clerks who are responsible for making sure the legislators’ desks are cleared at the end of the day.

The assignables’ day begins at 6:30 a.m., when they begin filing bills from the print shop into the file cabinets next to legislators’ desks. They’re ready for action while the House members are on the floor and until after the legislators adjourn for the day, and in the early parts of the session that means a relatively normal eight-hour day. That all goes out the window on days when the House works into the evenings, and during the latter part of the session that means some 14- or 16-hour days, because as long as the House members are on the floor, the assignables are there, too.

Downtime for the assignables takes place when the House is officially in session and on the chamber floor. They are on standby in a cluster of offices off the House floor, waiting for a call to action, whether it’s to deliver committee reports, fiscal notes, or other materials

Last year, the Boulder Elks Lodge 566 lost the person who had been making lap robes for disabled veterans, small 3’ x 4’ blankets that they distribute to local veterans and paralympians who visit Colorado. Worley’s brother-in-law, a member of that lodge, suggested she could take over the project, and that year Worley did about two dozen, using materials she already had on hand. Beginning this year, the Elks have been collecting donations to cover the cost of materials.

This year, she had help from the assignables staff, and collectively they made another 20 robes that will be going to the Veterans Hospital later this month. Each robe takes about 3 yards of material. Worley sews the front squares together with a sewing machine; hand-sewing is needed to sew the front and back together, and that’s where the other four assignable clerks help. It would take about 30 minutes to hand-sew them, if they had 30 minutes at a time to do it, Worley said, but it never works that way, since they’re up and down all the time to take care of the business of the House.

Working on the lap robes keeps the clerks from having to stare at the walls during down time. “I have the greatest staff,” Worley said this week. “You don’t have to tell them to do their jobs. The minute works come in, they’re out there doing it.”

Worley has been an assignable clerk in the House for 19 years and the chief assignable since 2000, and says this year’s staff “is the best group at one sitting we’ve ever had.”

Marianne@coloradostatesman.com