Jeff Hoover resigned as speaker of the Kentucky House Sunday afternoon after publicly apologizing for exchanging “inappropriate text messages” with a staffer, but his chief of staff showed no signs of following suit.
House Republican Chief of Staff Ginger Wills was accused of creating a hostile work environment in a settlement demand letter sent to Hoover last month by an employee alleging sexual harassment by Hoover and three other lawmakers, according to House Republican Communications Director Daisy Olivo, who has seen the letter.
Wills remained in charge of the House GOP’s staff Sunday evening, according to an email she sent staffers at 4:31 p.m., less than 30 minutes after Hoover, R-Jamestown, announced he was stepping down from his leadership post.
“As of this point, Speaker Pro-Tem Osborne assumes control of the House of Representatives, as well as myself and our majority leadership staff,” Wills wrote in the email obtained by the Herald-Leader.
“As you might imagine, this is a very fluid situation that none of us has experienced in the past,” Wills wrote. “Therefore, I request your patience and understanding as we move forward.”
Hoover confirmed that he and others named in the letter had reached a settlement with the accuser, though he denied that either he or anyone else named in the letter was guilty of sexual harassment.
Osborne, R-Prospect, was not immediately available for comment Monday morning, but he and other Republican leaders in the House issued a joint statement Sunday night that said Osborne would quickly meet with legal counsel to discuss options regarding staff mentioned in the reports.
“We are committed to treating everyone fairly while respecting the need for the investigation to remain as independent as possible,” the GOP leaders said. “We need a fully functioning staff to serve the members of the House, especially as we work through the pension crisis. We will make additional announcements regarding staffing on Monday.”
They did not, apart from acknowledging that a staff member chose to resign.
In a statement Monday evening, House Republican leadership instead said they had met with legal counsel and have begun to put together the structure of their internal investigation.
“We have been working hard today to get our arms around the situation unfolding in the capitol, and we have made significant progress,” the statement said. “We wish to reiterate that no one in the capitol has all the facts, but that we remain committed to fully independent investigation to get to the bottom of this situation.”
Prior to becoming Hoover’s chief of staff in December, Wills was chief of staff for Auditor Mike Harmon and chief of staff for Congressman James Comer when he served as Kentucky’s Agriculture Commissioner.
Questions also remain about what will happen to other staff members involved in the scandal. The Herald-Leader reported Saturday that Olivo said she was “effectively suspended” by leadership staff the day after she reported her concerns about Hoover and Wills to the Legislative Research Commission. The accuser, who has not been publicly named, was resigning Monday afternoon, according to her attorney.
The other lawmakers named in the demand letter — Rep. Brian Linder of Dry Ridge; Rep. Michael Meredith of Oakland and Rep. Jim DeCesare of Bowling Green — were temporarily removed from their positions as committee chairmen by the House GOP leadership team Sunday evening, pending the outcome of an internal investigation.
DeCesare, who was a member of Republican leadership before the GOP took control of the House of Representatives last November, chairs the Committee on Economic Development and Workforce Investment; Meredith is chairman of the Committee on Local Government, and Linder co-chairs the Public Pension Oversight Board.