Herald-Leader Editorial

Clear legislative air with full inquiry: KSP asked to put bite on body that feeds it

June 13, 2014 

The Kentucky State Police decision to reopen a document-shredding investigation does nothing to alter the perception that Speaker Greg Stumbo and House Democratic leaders wanted only a perfunctory examination of why three female staffers were subjected to years of groping and pawing by a male lawmaker.

The shred-o-rama staged by Bobby Sherman after he resigned as executive director of the Legislative Research Commission, which oversees legislative staff, is only part of the picture of a legislature that was unwilling or unable to discipline itself until the staffers went public with their complaints.

You'd think that House Democrats would want to make sure that employees who blow the whistle on misconduct are heard and respected, and that there is a system for making sure such complaints are properly adjudged.

After all, if the reaction had been smarter and more responsive to employee complaints about the shenanigans of the 1990s, House Democrats might have avoided the embarrassment of an FBI investigation that resulted in the House operations director pleading guilty to federal prostitution and gambling charges related to an events business he ran out of his legislative office.

The value of protecting whistleblowers is one of the reasons that, shortly after the three staffers went public with their sexual harassment complaints last year, we called for an independent investigation — and not just into the details of the complaints about now retired Rep. John Arnold, but also into the legislature's personnel system and the culture in which legislative employees are expected to work.

That kind of thorough, independent investigation has yet to happen — even though the massive shredding of documents by Sherman added to public suspicions of a cover-up. Sherman resigned after the weak internal response to the harassment complaints became public.

Stumbo, a Democrat, called on the KSP to investigate after his Republican counterpart Jeff Hoover, called for a police investigation of the shredding.

It was never fair to put the KSP in the position of having to investigate the legislature on which it directly depends for funding.

And, sure enough, when The Courier-Journal's Tom Loftus filed an open records request, he discovered that without examining Sherman's computer files the KSP determined there was no wrongdoing. Sherman said he accidentally deleted his computer files on his way out.

It stands to reason that if you are hiding something, shredding documents and deleting computer files serve similar purposes, so it's not surprising that expert investigators said examining computer files is now a routine step in such investigations.

The KSP responded on Thursday by reopening the investigation and saying it will examine the contents of Sherman's computer.

But, as we said, the shredding is only part of a pattern and culture that need to be thoroughly examined to dispel the doubts still hanging over the legislature.

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