FRANKFORT — With the Kentucky General Assembly in the throes of a sexual harassment scandal, legislative leaders selected a woman Wednesday to be acting director of the Legislative Research Commission and authorized a performance audit of the support agency.
Marcia Seiler, director of the legislature's Office of Education Accountability, will be acting director until a replacement is found for Robert Sherman, who resigned last month after he said his office had thoroughly investigated two female staffers' complaints of sexual harassment by a Western Kentucky lawmaker and implemented protective measures for them.
Sherman is under investigation by Kentucky State Police for shredding documents in his Capitol office two days after resigning. He has said the documents had nothing to do with the harassment claims.
Senate President Robert Stivers, R-Manchester, recommended to fellow legislative leaders at their meeting Wednesday that Seiler be named acting director. All leaders agreed with Stivers.
Sherman had named Robert Jenkins, one of four LRC deputy directors, to fulfill his duties until legislators acted.
The legislative branch budget for this year is $53.8 million. Of that, $18.9 million is for the General Assembly and $34.9 million is for the LRC.
A total of 380 people work for the LRC — 320 in non-partisan positions and 60 in partisan posts. During legislative sessions, as many as 250 additional people are hired for the LRC.
Stivers said Seiler, a lawyer from Louisville, would stay in her current position while directing the full LRC without any increase in salary. Seiler's annual salary is $121,200; Sherman was making $195,000 a year.
When asked whether she was interested in becoming permanent director of the LRC, Seiler said she was "only focusing on being acting director at this time."
House Speaker Greg Stumbo, D-Prestonsburg, said he didn't know Seiler but had heard good things about her.
Legislative leaders also authorized the National Conference of State Legislatures to help find a permanent replacement for Sherman. Stivers said that process could take six to eight months.
Jay Hartz, deputy chief of staff for Senate Republicans, will work with the national conference to find a permanent LRC director and on the performance audit of the entire LRC, Stivers said.
Stumbo said he didn't know how much the audit would cost.
He said the review should include "a general audit of everything," including an evaluation of pay for LRC employees.
The issue of pay was mentioned in a sexual harassment lawsuit that staffers Cassaundra Cooper and Yolanda Costner filed Tuesday in Franklin Circuit Court against former Rep. John Arnold Jr., D-Sturgis.
In addition to Arnold, the women named as defendants the state, Stumbo in his official capacity, and the LRC. Arnold recently resigned from the legislature and has denied any wrongdoing.
In their lawsuit, the two women contend they were paid for 37.5 hours a week even when they worked overtime.
Another LRC staffer, Nicole Cusic, has sued Democratic state Rep. Will Coursey of Symsonia, the LRC and Sherman, claiming she was retaliated against when she was moved to another office against her will after she complained to Coursey about what she said was his inappropriate behavior with a legislative intern. Coursey denies the allegations.