Recently, the Herald-Leader published an editorial with the headline, “If Bevin thinks sexual harassment is inexcusable, why does this guy still have a job at Kentucky prison?”
The Herald-Leader knows (or should know) the answer to that question: the individual in question, Stephen Harper, is a merit employee. As such, he is entitled to the protections of the merit system set forth in KRS Chapter 18A.
Were the governor to call for the termination of this employee, one can imagine the headline splashed across the front page of the paper claiming the governor interfered with an employee’s merit system rights.
Perhaps the better question — and one not even alluded to by the editorial — is why the Steve Beshear administration officials did nothing when these allegations first came to light in 2013, over four years ago.
Despite the Beshear administration’s inaction to punish the conduct at the time it occurred, nothing in KRS 18A allows a merit employee to be suspended or dismissed for entering into a settlement agreement.
Further, with no regard for the truth (or effort to uncover the truth), the editorial noted that the woman’s lawyer heard Harper had been promoted. Had the Herald-Leader requested Harper’s personnel file, they would have quickly and easily discovered this not to be the case.
This case, as well as others coming to light since Gov. Matt Bevin’s election, demonstrate the urgent need for merit-system reform. Kentucky’s merit laws, first enacted in the early 1960s, last underwent significant revisions more than 20 years ago. The world has changed since that time, but the merit system has not.
There is no question that Bevin has a zero-tolerance policy for sexual harassment. He has repeatedly called for the resignation of any elected official or state employee who has settled a sexual-harassment claim in the workplace.
While the Herald Leader continues to print one-sided editorials attempting to portray the governor and his administration in a negative light, we will keep doing the job taxpayers hired us to do: fix the ills of a system badly in need of repair. We are doing what is right by the people of this commonwealth.
Tom Stephens is Kentucky Personnel Cabinet Secretary.