Politics & Government

House GOP chief of staff resigns, but predicts ethics probe will exonerate her

The Kentucky State Capitol in Frankfort, Ky., on Thursday, January 11, 2018.
The Kentucky State Capitol in Frankfort, Ky., on Thursday, January 11, 2018.

Ginger Wills, the House Republican chief of staff who was accused by a former employee of creating a hostile work environment, resigned Friday.

When asked by the Herald-Leader, House Majority Floor Leader Jonathan Shell, R-Lancaster, confirmed the resignation but said he had no details about Wills’ departure.

Wills, who had been chief of staff for House Republicans since early 2017, is among the staffers caught up in a sexual harassment scandal in Frankfort.

She was accused of creating a hostile work environment in a settlement demand letter sent to former House Speaker Jeff Hoover in October by an employee alleging sexual harassment by Hoover and three other Republican lawmakers, according to House Republican Communications Director Daisy Olivo, who has seen the letter.

In her resignation letter, obtained by the Herald-Leader, Wills said performing her job had become too difficult because of the harassment scandal and that her resignation would be effective Friday.

“With the circumstances that have surrounded the House of Representatives over the past three months, it has been difficult for me to perform many of what I feel are vital components of my role as chief of staff,” Wills wrote.

Hoover, who stepped down as speaker earlier this month, confirmed in November 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. The details of the settlement have not been released to the public.

Olivo filed a whistleblower lawsuit against the Legislative Research Commission in December, alleging that Wills retaliated against her after the sexual harassment scandal broke publicly. Olivo said Wills and other staffers blamed her for Hoover’s downfall and they effectively have stripped her of her duties for a time.

“I have been the victim of many false statements and slanderous accusations that have had a negative effect on my reputation,” Wills wrote in her resignation letter. “Some of these came from members of the executive branch and the media. However members of the House Republican Caucus and our own staff levied others. To say this has caused me much emotional distress during this time would be an understatement.”

Wills did not respond to a request for comment.

Her letter was dated January 16, the same day the Legislative Ethics Commission met to begin investigating the details surrounding the secret sexual harassment settlement. Wills was not named in a complaint to the agency filed by state Rep. Jim Wayne, D-Louisville.

“While I understand the hesitancy to have me involved in some capacities while lawsuits and ethics investigations are pending, both of which I feel will exonerate me of all accusations, I do not believe I can effectively continue in this role if not given the freedom to do the job I was hired to do,” Wills said.

David Floyd, the deputy chief of staff for House Majority Leadership, said on Friday that he had not seen Wills’ letter of resignation.

“I have not seen a resignation letter from Ginger Wells,” Floyd said. “The Speaker Pro Tempore would normally receive any such letter, and he is not available until Monday morning. I will ask him then, and I’ll be able to accurately respond.”

Before serving as chief of staff for the first Republican House majority since 1920, Wills worked as chief of staff for U.S. Rep. James Comer when he was Kentucky’s agriculture commissioner and as chief of staff for Kentucky Auditor Mike Harmon.

Daniel Desrochers: 502-875-3793, @drdesrochers, @BGPolitics