In October 2013, the Kentucky legislature faced a growing scandal: a lawmaker who resigned over accusations that he sexually harassed women at the Legislative Research Commission; allegations that sexual misconduct and favoritism made the LRC a hostile workplace; and the abrupt departure of longtime LRC director Bobby Sherman, whom police investigated for shredding documents at the Capitol days after he quit.
Hoping to restore public confidence, Senate President Robert Stivers and House Speaker Greg Stumbo gave a $42,410 contract to an outside group — the National Conference of State Legislatures — to perform a top-to-bottom performance audit of the $19-million-a-year LRC, the bureaucracy that runs the legislative branch of state government. The leaders pledged to publicly air and fix any problems identified.
"There's a lot of interest in what has occurred," Stivers, R-Manchester, said at the time.
That was the last the public ever learned about it.
The National Conference of State Legislatures, or NCSL, flew a team to Frankfort to interview scores of legislative staffers and lawmakers, and pore over data and documents. The group submitted a draft report of its findings in April to Stivers and Stumbo, co-chairmen of the LRC. But the leaders never responded.
As of last week, the LRC considered the report a "preliminary draft" and so refused to release it to the Herald-Leader under the Kentucky Open Records Act.
It's true that the report remains a draft, because the Kentucky legislature never sent a response or asked for changes — or, for that matter, paid for it, said Brian Weberg, who led the audit team as director of the NCSL Legislative Management Program. The NCSL is "right now" preparing an invoice requesting payment for its months of work, Weberg said.
"We are in a holding pattern," he said. "We expect there will be a next step to this, but as to what or when, we're not in a position to speculate."
Stumbo and Stivers declined to be interviewed about the report this week, as did acting LRC director Marcia Seiler. In separately prepared statements, each legislative leader blamed the other for the report gathering dust as a confidential draft.
"The House has no objection to releasing the NCSL draft report immediately," said Stumbo, D-Prestonsburg. "We call on the Senate to join us in releasing this draft report."
In his statement, Stivers said that the report didn't address some important subjects he wanted included, but that he has been unable to get Stumbo to agree to a request for revisions.
"The draft report from NCSL did not contain the information that the LRC requested," Stivers said. "We have asked Speaker Stumbo to give his approval for a joint request to NCSL to get what we requested. There is nothing in the draft report that pertains to any pending lawsuits."
LRC leadership — comprised of the Senate and House floor leaders from both parties — formally met several times in 2014. According to meeting minutes, there was little public discussion of the report, other than a request from Stivers and Stumbo in August to extend the NCSL contract for 11 months, through June 30. The leaders gave no explanation for this extension.
Stivers also said Wednesday that newly chosen members of LRC leadership must be given a chance to read the report before any action is taken.
"Nine of the LRC members are new as a result of the recent leadership elections and have not had an opportunity to review the draft report," Stivers said. "My general counsel David Fleenor and I are meeting with the Senate Democrats tomorrow to discuss how to proceed with the final report. And we are again working on scheduling a meeting with the speaker."
Rank-and-file lawmakers said they haven't seen the report, and some are curious about its contents.
Rep. Tom Riner, D-Louisville, recently filed his own request for the report under the Open Records Act. Like the Herald-Leader, Riner was denied because the LRC considers the report a "preliminary draft" and therefore exempt from public disclosure.
"It's not going anywhere," Riner said this week. "Why did we even ask for this outside study when we obviously didn't want it and we don't want to disclose it? You have to assume there's something in there that they don't want the public to see. But we don't know what."
During a 2013 House floor speech, Riner aired the sexual harassment complaints filed against then-Rep. John Arnold, D-Sturgis, by three female LRC employees who said he offensively touched them and used crude language with them.
Arnold resigned his seat but denied the claims. He is fighting lawsuits and civil ethics penalties related to the case. Arnold's attorney says the former lawmaker suffers from dementia.
As part of Arnold's case, various LRC employees stepped forward to complain that lax oversight in the legislative branch created a hostile workplace that made it difficult for professionals to concentrate on doing their jobs with dignity.
"It's embarrassing that nobody wants to deal with this," Riner said. "I have spoken to leadership to ask them where they are on this. They say, 'We can't tell you. Privacy.' Then I asked them, 'How many complaints have been made against legislators for inappropriate conduct? Just give me numbers.' They say, 'We can't tell you that. It's a personnel matter.' Essentially, they just stonewall on everything."
One of the nine new LRC leaders is Rep. Stan Lee, R-Lexington, elected last week as chairman of the House minority caucus. Lee said this week that he hadn't seen the report and had "no idea what's in there," but he favors making it final and releasing it to the public.
"I don't think it should die as a draft somewhere, and hopefully, when the LRC meets again, we can do something about it," Lee said.