FRANKFORT — Kentucky legislative leaders argued Wednesday about how to fix the troubled Legislative Research Commission that they oversee, but they failed to take any action. Each chamber blamed the other for the impasse.
House Speaker Greg Stumbo's motion for a committee to start searching for a new LRC director, 17 months after the last director resigned, failed along partisan lines with an 8-8 vote. Democrats supported it; Republicans opposed it. No other motion was offered, and no further leadership meetings are scheduled for now.
Senate President Robert Stivers, R-Manchester, said he first wanted to hear more information from consultants on how Kentucky should professionally staff its legislative branch, with comparisons to what other states do. Stivers blamed the Democratic-led House for not joining the Republican-led Senate in a joint call for additional information.
"We've tried to move the process forward, but we've been somewhat stymied," Stivers told reporters after the meeting.
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The LRC, which employs nearly 400 people to run the state's legislative branch, was described as a dysfunctional workplace in a draft report produced last April by the National Conference of State Legislatures.
Employee morale is low across the agency because jobs and raises were awarded to a favored few in seemingly arbitrary fashion by the LRC's then-director, Bobby Sherman, auditors said in the report. LRC managers seldom communicated with one another, and employees were not told what was expected of them or how they could advance, auditors said.
Legislative leaders requested the outside audit in October 2013 after several women on the LRC staff accused Rep. John Arnold, D-Sturgis, of sexual harassment. Arnold denied the allegations but resigned, and in the ensuing controversy over hostile workplace lawsuits, Sherman quit as LRC director.
Stumbo and Stivers kept the draft report under wraps for nine months until agreeing to release it in January.
At Wednesday's leadership meeting, attended by 16 ranking House and Senate members, Stivers said he considered the draft to be inadequate until the auditors flesh it out with more information about the staffing practices of other legislatures and specific recommendations for how Kentucky could improve its hiring and evaluation process.
Stumbo, D-Prestonsburg, said he was satisfied with the draft as it stood, so he saw no reason to delay the search for Sherman's replacement as director. Marcia Seiler, who runs the legislature's Office of Education Accountability, has filled in as acting LRC director.
Stumbo said a new LRC director should be the one to enact reforms at the agency, which he described as "a rudderless ship."
"The flaw that led to the Bobby Sherman situation was that there wasn't enough oversight," Stumbo said.
Legislative leaders spoke more generously of Sherman in recent years. In 2008, they awarded him a 47 percent pay raise, taking him to $195,000 a year, even as most of his employees saw little to no extra money that year. Then-Senate President David Williams, R-Burkesville, at the time called Sherman "an indispensable person."
After his motion failed Wednesday, Stumbo said the House would send a legally binding resolution to the Senate that would require a search to begin for a new LRC director. Stivers did not show any enthusiasm for that.
"We can send a Senate resolution to the House saying we need a completed report," Stivers responded.