Politics & Government

3 legislative leaders call for meeting to deal with 'leadership vacuum' at LRC

FRANKFORT — Three legislative leaders called Friday for a meeting of all legislative leaders on Wednesday to deal with "a leadership vacuum" caused by the resignation of Legislative Research Commission director Robert Sherman.

Sherman abruptly resigned as director of the LRC, the administrative agency for Kentucky's legislative branch of government, on Sept. 20. His departure came a day after he said an LRC investigation of two staffers' sexual harassment complaints against former Rep. John Arnold, D-Sturgis, showed that the LRC thoroughly investigated the complaints and implemented protective measures for the women.

In a letter to all legislative leaders Friday, Senate President Robert Stivers, Senate Minority Leader R.J. Palmer and House Minority Leader Jeff Hoover identified two items concerning legislative leadership that they said require the immediate attention of all leaders.

The three leaders said there are four people currently with the title of "deputy director" of the LRC, none of whom have authority to take over for Sherman. They said that Sherman designated Robert Jenkins as the administrator in charge, but that the designation was temporary until all leaders could meet.

The leaders also said in their letter that all legislative leaders need to immediately begin the search for a permanent successor to Sherman.

"This is a critical position and will not be easy to fill," the three said, noting that the organization last conducted such a search in 1998.

House Speaker Greg Stumbo, who did not sign the letter, said in an email message that the request for a meeting next week of all legislative leaders is "a good idea."

"We need to appoint an interim acting director and lay the groundwork for conducting the search for a replacement director," said Stumbo, D-Prestonsburg.

Jodi Whitaker, a spokeswoman for Stivers, said the letter was sent after House Democratic leaders did not respond when Stivers, R-Manchester, contacted them earlier this week about a full leadership meeting to discuss Sherman's resignation.

Whitaker also said that Pierce Whites, Stumbo's general counsel, emailed Stivers' office Friday morning, as the letter was being distributed, to say that Jenkins should be named acting director and that no meeting would be necessary.

Whites said he sent the email before talking to Stumbo, whom he said informed him Friday afternoon that he already had agreed to a meeting Thursday.

Sherman is under investigation by Kentucky State Police for shredding documents Sunday in his former Capitol office. Sherman has said the documents were not related to the sexual harassment scandal that has rocked the Capitol in recent weeks.

Three female legislative staffers have filed sexual-harassment complaints against Arnold. He has denied any wrongdoing and has resigned from the legislature.

Another female legislative staffer is expected to file a lawsuit soon against Sherman, the LRC and state Rep. Will Coursey, D-Symsonia. She claims she was transferred to another legislative job after she advised Coursey that he had acted inappropriately with a legislative intern.

Coursey has denied any inappropriate action.

Meanwhile, House Majority Caucus Chairwoman Sannie Overly, D-Paris, said in a letter Friday to legislative leaders that the Wednesday meeting also should address how Sherman accessed LRC offices and property after his resignation, exactly what documents were destroyed and if employees who aided Sherman in the shredding should be disciplined.

Whitaker said Stivers agrees with Overly in her first two concerns but that any discipline should await the results of the state police investigation.

Sherman told The Courier-Journal earlier this week that Jenkins was in the office with him on Sunday, along with Roy Collins, assistant director for human resources; Steve Kring, an inventory control supervisor; and Rita Ratliff, administrative officer for the legislative process. Sherman said he shredded some documents, as did Collins and Ratliff.