David Byerman, former secretary of the Nevada State Senate, spent his first day Oct. 1 as the director of the Legislative Research Commission in Kentucky.
No one can accuse leaders of the Kentucky House of Representatives and the Kentucky Senate of rushing to replace former LRC director Robert “Bobby” Sherman, who retired two years ago in the wake of sexual harassment allegations against a former lawmaker by female LRC employees. Sherman was widely criticized for not doing enough to protect his employees from the inappropriate actions.
During the long search for a new LRC director, legislators, led by Speaker of the House Greg Stumbo, D-Prestonsburg, and Senate President Robert Stivers, R-Manchester, hired the National Conference of State Legislatures to conduct a review of the LRC.
The team found a highly professional staff which was demoralized by a culture of favoritism in pay and promotions and a critical need for formal personnel and compensation policies. The highly critical review caused Stumbo, Stivers and other legislative leaders to take their time and conduct an extensive nationwide search.
Byerman is a complete outsider with no previous ties to Kentucky. The new LRC director wasted no time in letting LRC staff members know his arrival signifies change. On his first day on the job, Byerman, 44, said, “I’m a change agent. I’m coming in here to change things” — because, Byerman told the staff, “your voice has been heard.”
However, Byerman wisely said because he is new to Kentucky, and needs to learn about politics in Frankfort and get to know the LRC staff and lawmakers, change won’t be immediate.
His first task will be to begin preparation for the 2016 General Assembly, which convenes in January. The primary task of that 60-day session is to write and approve a new, two-year budget — all while a new governor has just begun his four-year term. Who that governor will be will not be known until the Nov. 3 General Election. Only the governor and other statewide constitutional offices are on the ballot.
Becky Harilson, chief of staff for Stivers, and Steve Collins, chief of staff for Stumbo, have managed the LRC for the past several months.
The LRC does much of the “grunt” work for the 138 members of the Kentucky General Assembly, most of whom have other full-time jobs and are considered part-time legislators.
The LRC’s professional staff does much of the research on pending legislation and even writes many of the bills for legislators. With the General Assembly only in session for a few weeks a year, the LRC’s work is critical for the legislature to function. Yet LRC staff members, and now Byerman, are expected to avoid partisan politics and do the work they are asked to do by representatives and senators from both parties. If the LRC can’t do that, the General Assembly can’t function.
LRC staff members are the “moles” who remain in the background and avoid the public spotlight while doing essential work. If he does his job the way it should be done, David Byerman will never be a household name among voters in Kentucky but he and his staff will be greatly evaluated by every legislator who takes his or her job seriously.