Politics & Government

‘This decision surprised me.’ Head of KY legislature’s staff ousted by GOP leaders.

David Byerman is executive director of the Kentucky Legislative Research Commission.
David Byerman is executive director of the Kentucky Legislative Research Commission. Photo provided

The director of the scandal-plagued Kentucky Legislative Research Commission, the bureaucracy that keeps Kentucky’s legislature running, will be out of a job as of Sept. 30, he told staff Tuesday morning.

David Byerman, who took the helm of the LRC in 2015 after a series of sexual harassment scandals, said in an email that the decision “surprised” him, “and I’m sure will come as a surprise to many of you.”

Senate President Robert Stivers, R-Manchester, and House Speaker Pro Tempore David Osborne, R-Prospect, “have indicated they want to take the office of Director ‘in a different direction,’ and they have assured me that this decision is not a reflection of my job performance,” Byerman wrote.

Byerman said House and Senate leaders have asked him to stay on as an adviser through the first month of the 2019 General Assembly, which begins in January. The LRC employs 327 people who conduct research and support the General Assembly.

In a joint statement late Tuesday, Stivers and Osborne said Byerman was initially hired on a two-year contract, which was extended one year. “It has always been our policy not to publicly discuss personnel decisions,” the statement said. “We wish him the best of luck in his future endeavors.”

Byerman said that until a new director is named, his duties will be filled by Becky Harilson and David Floyd, who are chiefs of staff for Senate Republican Leadership and House Republican Leadership, respectively.

That move drew fire from Ben Self, chairman of the Kentucky Democratic Party, who said in a statement that the decision to fire Byerman and “replace him with partisan staff before an election calls into question the independent, non-partisan reputation of the Commission and should be reversed immediately.”

“The firing of David Byerman is an obvious move to fully politicize the Legislative Research Commission,” Self said.

House Minority Floor Leader Rocky Adkins, D-Sandy Hook, said he was concerned that Republican leaders dismissed Byerman without consulting minority leadership, saying it “sets a dangerous precedent, but I remain hopeful that whoever is ultimately chosen to serve in this important position maintains the strong nonpartisanship structure that has been a hallmark of LRC for decades.”

Adkins also praised Byerman for bringing “a deep level of experience and expertise. Legislators and legislative staff alike owe him a great deal for his many contributions.”

Longtime LRC Director Bobby Sherman resigned in 2013 following questions about his leadership in the wake of a harassment scandal involving Democratic Rep. John Arnold, who also resigned. Afterwards, the National Conference of State Legislatures sent a team to Frankfort to study the legislative agency, and issued a critical report calling the LRC a “frustrated” workplace whose employees struggled with poor morale due to favoritism and a lack of merit-based hiring and promotion.

The agency’s troubles have continued. In 2017, then-House Speaker Jeff Hoover, who helped oversee the first Republican takeover of the House in nearly 100 years, resigned his post as speaker after he admitted that he and three other GOP lawmakers secretly settled a sexual harassment claim made by a House staff member.

Hoover acknowledged sending “inappropriate” text messages to the staffer, who resigned her position. Other lawmakers signing the settlement included Rep. Brian Linder of Dry Ridge, Rep. Michael Meredith of Oakland and Rep. Jim DeCesare of Bowling Green.

Byerman came to Kentucky from Las Vegas, where he was secretary to the Nevada Senate for four years. He replaced interim executive director Marcia Seiler, who was hired after Sherman’s resignation.

Andrew Brennen, a former student director of the Prichard Committee Student Voice Team, said Byerman worked with his group to explain legislative processes on important issues such as college affordability and gun control.

“It was Byerman’s commitment to transparency, citizen engagement, and youth empowerment that quickly affirmed him as one of our greatest allies,” Brennen said. “Always careful to remain politically neutral, Byerman was committed to the belief that every citizen must play a role in holding our government accountable.”

In a statement, Byerman said he was proud of improved morale and communications at LRC.

“I am proud that, without a doubt, I am leaving LRC in a far stronger place than I found it three years ago,” Byerman said. “I have come to care a great deal for the employees of this agency and the legislators they will continue to serve. I am optimistic that this agency is better positioned than it has ever been — to realize its full potential and to continue its important duties to the citizens of the Commonwealth.”