Legislative official welcomes review of harassment complaint process

jbrammer@herald-leader.comAugust 23, 2013 

Former state Rep. John A. Arnold Jr., D-Sturgis.

PHOTO PROVIDED

FRANKFORT — The director of Kentucky's Legislative Research Commission said Friday that he welcomes any review of how he and his staff handled sexual harassment complaints by three female legislative workers against a Western Kentucky lawmaker.

In an interview, executive director Robert Sherman said he agrees with House Speaker Greg Stumbo's call for an independent investigation into the LRC's handling of the complaints to determine whether procedures or policies should be changed.

He also said Stumbo is correct in saying there has to be a fair and impartial investigation of whether Sherman did his job properly.

Three legislative staffers have filed complaints of sexual misconduct with the Legislative Ethics Commission against Rep. John Arnold, D-Sturgis. Arnold has not publicly commented on the charges.

Cassaundra Cooper and Yolanda Costner filed harassment complaints last week. Gloria Morgan filed a complaint Thursday against Arnold and accused the LRC of failing to investigate her allegations against him.

House Minority Leader Jeff Hoover, R-Jamestown, has asked Stumbo and Senate President Robert Stivers, R-Manchester, to hold a meeting of House and Senate leaders next week to review the LRC's handling of the complaints.

Stumbo said Friday that he would like to see that happen.

"I think that's a good idea and I support that," Stumbo said. "We need to know what they did and how they responded. And I think in some point in time, we as a body, as the Legislative Research Commission, need to hire someone to come in to review those files."

Sherman, who oversees about 400 employees who provide research and staff support for state lawmakers, said he agrees with the need for a review.

"The more we look at this, the better," he said. "A nonpartisan investigation of how we handled these complaints is a great idea."

Sherman said he was not at liberty to discuss details of the complaints and how they were handled because the ethics commission's proceedings are confidential by law.

"I can only talk about the process of handling complaints," he said.

He said the LRC "religiously" follows its internal policies regarding harassment complaints.

"As part of that process, we have records of who we talked to and what action we took," Sherman said. "In our opinion, the process was prompt. It's ongoing and we think it obtained results, and I would welcome review of that."

He said an outside attorney who is an expert in employment law was hired to review the staff's actions, and, "at least to this point, we have had excellent results from that review."

The three women who have alleged harassment said in their complaints that the harassment continued after they brought it to the attention of LRC leaders and key lawmakers.

Morgan, a nonpartisan staffer for the LRC, said she reported to her boss, Anita Muckelroy, the assistant director for legislator services, that she had been propositioned and inappropriately touched by Arnold in 2009.

Morgan said that Muckelroy seemed to be concerned only that Morgan was "nice to Arnold." There was no investigation into the complaint, Morgan said.

In 2010, Costner said she told her then-boss, Democratic Rep. John Will Stacy of West Liberty, that Arnold tried to grab her underwear. Stacy told her that Arnold was harmless, and no formal report was taken, the complaint said.

Muckelroy and Stacy have not returned phone calls seeking comment.

Sherman said he couldn't discuss specifics, "but I think we will get a better picture of what happened after all sides are heard from ... ."

Jack Brammer: (502) 227-1198. Twitter: @BGPolitics. Blog: Bluegrasspolitics.bloginky.com.

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