Good first step on LRC reform: don’t stop now

In the spring of 2014 an outside evaluation of the Legislative Research Commission, the agency lawmakers depend upon to inform and draft the legislation that governs our lives, found a dysfunctional workplace veering rapidly toward a dangerous, demoralized “red zone” culture.

Legislative leaders requested the evaluation by the National Conference of State Legislators in the wake of a scandal that arose over charges that former Rep. John Arnold, D-Sturgis, had groped and otherwise harassed female LRC staffers. The bungled handling of the charges led to the resignation of longtime executive director Robert Sherman and revelations about profound problems within this critical agency.

Amid the partisan wrangling and finger-pointing that followed it was sometimes hard to believe that legislative leaders, who oversee the LRC, would be able to hire a competent, professional executive director and give that person the authority to right the agency.

Last week, at long last, there were encouraging signs the LRC might have hopes of escaping from the red zone.

David Byerman, the executive director legislators hired 10 months ago, reported that the LRC now has a current personnel policy manual, a clearly defined reporting structure and descriptions for each of its job positions at the agency. In the next few months he will ask his bosses to approve a compensation plan based on the job descriptions.

It’s easy to see this all as bureaucratic nonsense, but without structures like well-defined workplace rules, clear lines of authority and job descriptions, and equal pay for equal work, employees have to guess about both their work obligations and their job security.

When things go terribly wrong, as happened with Arnold, they don’t have a clear idea of where to take their complaints.

It remains to be seen if the reforms Byerman — the first non-Kentucky native to head the staff since LRC’s founding in 1948 — has begun will take hold and bring a renewed professionalism to this critical agency.

But this is an important and encouraging first step.