The special committee assigned to investigate charges against House Speaker Jeff Hoover will likely decide in secret whether or not to pursue the investigation.
Comparing it to a grand jury proceeding, the committee’s chairman, Rep. Jerry Miller, R-Louisville, said he thinks the committee will have to take a vote on whether the charges against the Russell County politician are valid before they pursue a larger investigation.
“We will make that evaluation likely in closed session,” Miller said. “Then if we do return a finding that we do need to do an investigation, then those meetings will be public.”
The three Democratic members of the special committee, however, said they do not support a private meeting to decide whether to investigate Hoover.
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“The Democratic members on the special committee have not agreed to conduct any closed or private meetings and are disappointed if this is the direction the Republicans want to take,” said Rep. Sannie Overly, D-Paris. “No rules of procedure have been adopted, and we believe strongly that everything should be done in public. Given the seriousness of the charges, this process must be as open and transparent as possible.”
While the committee consists of three Republicans and three Democrats, Miller, as chairman, has the deciding vote in the event of a tie.
The formal disciplinary charge in question asks that Hoover be expelled from the House of Representatives.
It alleges Hoover sexually harassed a Legislative Research Commission employee under his control; that he created a hostile work environment due to inappropriate workplace behavior; that he used his official position to direct a cover-up; that he paid money to induce silence from an LRC employee; that he used public facilities, personnel and funds for personal gain; and that he exposed the Legislative Research Commission to litigation and liability.
Rep. Phil Moffett, R-Louisville, one of the eight Republican members who filed the charge against Hoover, said he thinks the committee’s decision on whether to pursue the investigation should be public.
“I don’t understand why that would need to be private,” Moffett said. “I understand it would be more comfortable for them, but I think that discussion is something the public should know and hear and understand.”
Moffett said he understood if testimony from a victim was made privately and then released to the public after being redacted, but said he felt that all committee decisions should be made in public view.
The rules for the six-member committee, including what should be public and what should be private, are still in flux. Just Tuesday, the House approved the process for forming a special investigatory committee to investigate charges of misconduct against members. The eight members filed their complaint the next day.
The committee met for the first time Friday and determined that it would decide on its rules and whether the committee can hire a special counsel in its second meeting on Monday.
Miller said he hopes to have the investigation against Hoover concluded by early February.
“In my view this now becomes my top priority,” Miller said.
Should the committee decide to pursue the investigation against Hoover, Miller said he expects the committee to subpoena the legal settlement between Hoover and his accuser, the demand letter sent by the accuser and any other legal documents.
That settlement agreement has contributed to much of the confusion around the scandal. While Hoover and the three other Republican members accused have admitted to taking part in a settlement, all of them have denied sexual harassment.
Hoover and Rep. Brian Linder, R-Dry Ridge, have specifically cited the settlement when explaining why they couldn’t say more to defend themselves.
If they decide to investigate, the committee will make a recommendation to the full House of Representatives on whether to censure or expel Hoover.
The decision to take action against Hoover will ultimately be left up to the House. Until then, Miller said, he doesn’t expect the House to take any action against Hoover.
“They will not take action, I presume, until this body brings forward this full report,” Miller said.
Moffett said he has faith in Miller to lead the investigation and said he hopes the conclusion of the committee will help toward cleaning up Frankfort.
“We have a long tradition in the House of sexual harassment, a hostile workplace, and covering things up and we have to end that,” Moffett said.