Daily Independent (Ashland, KY)

September 27, 2013

‘Leadership vacuum’ concerns legislative leaders

By RONNIE ELLIS
CNHI News Service

FRANKFORT — Legislative leaders want to address the “leadership vacuum” created by the resignation of their staff director at a meeting of the Legislative Research Commission next week.

The LRC is governed by 16 party leaders from both parties and both chambers of the General Assembly and co-chaired by the Speaker of the House and the President of the Senate. The term is also widely used to describe the staffing arm of the legislature which was headed by Robert “Bobby” Sherman for 14 years before he resigned last Friday.

Sherman’s resignation came in the wake of a growing list of allegations of sexual harassment and other alleged inappropriate behavior by lawmakers toward LRC staff.

Friday, Senate President Robert Stivers, R-Manchester, Senate Minority Leader R.J. Palmer, D-Winchester, and House Minority Leader Jeff Hoover, R-Jamestown, signed a letter to the other 13 members of the LRC requesting the group meet next Wednesday, Oct. 2, to discuss two items related to Sherman’s resignation.

“First, the resignation of Bobby Sherman on September 30, 2013 has left a leadership vacuum within the administrative staff,” the letter states. It goes on to say there are four deputy directors but none has the authority to assume Sherman’s duties.

Friday’s letter from the three legislative leaders said Sherman “designated Robert Jenkins the administrator in charge.” But that is temporary, the letter says, until the full commission can meet and take action.

The letter goes on to say the commission needs to “immediately begin to address the process to find a permanent successor to Mr. Sherman. This is a critical position and will not be easy to fill. The last time the organization conducted a search was in 1988.”

Sherman, 61, took over after that search, beginning in 1999.

Stumbo did not sign the letter but later Friday issued a statement saying he agreed with the other three leaders’ call for a meeting.

‘I think it is a good idea,” Stumbo said. “We need to appoint an interim acting director and lay the groundwork for conducting the search for a replacement director.”

Sherman’s resignation followed allegations by three LRC female employees that they were sexually harassed by former Rep. John Arnold, D-Sturgis, who resigned on Sept. 13, proclaiming his innocence.

The three women filed complaints with the Legislative Ethics Commission and also allege their prior complaints to Sherman and LRC staff weren’t taken seriously. An attorney for two of the women, Thomas Clay, has indicated the women are considering filing suit as well.

On Sunday following his Friday resignation, Sherman returned to his office and shredded papers and documents while Jenkins and LRC employees Roy Collins, Steve King and Rita Ratliff were present. Jenkins later informed Stivers and Stumbo that no documents pertaining to the investigation of sexual harassment were destroyed.

But that nonetheless prompted Hoover to ask for an investigation into the shredding by Kentucky State Police.

Then on Thursday, Clay — the attorney representing two of the LRC staff alleging harassment — revealed yet another female staff person, Nicole Cusic, claims Rep. Will Coursey, D-Symsonia, acted inappropriately toward legislative interns. Coursey and his attorney have vigorously denied the allegations.

Palmer, the Senate Minority Leader who signed Friday’s call for an LRC meeting next week, said a final agenda for Wednesday’s meeting hadn’t been approved, “But obviously we’re going to have to discuss the leadership of the LRC.

“And I’d think at the very least we’d also ask the deputy director (Jenkins) for a list of the items they destroyed on Sunday,” Palmer said. “And then we need to have a discussion on who we want to be interim director.”

The meeting is scheduled for 1:30 p.m. EDT, Wednesday in room 125 of the Capitol Annex.

RONNIE ELLIS writes for CNHI News Service and is based in Frankfort. Reach him at rellis@cnhi.com. Follow CNHI News Service stories on Twitter at www.twitter.com/cnhifrankfort.