Politics

Leaders of the Kentucky legislature have not renewed the contract of Legislative Research Commission Director David Byerman, who assumed control of the state agency in the wake of a sexual harassment scandal and low morale among employees.

In a statement, Byerman said the decision “surprised” him and that he had been told by Senate President Robert Stivers and House Speaker Pro Tem David Osborne that they “want to take the office of director in a ‘different direction.’”

“While I am profoundly disappointed that I cannot continue my service to the Commonwealth and to the General Assembly, I nonetheless take pride in the tremendous progress we have made over the last three years,” Byerman wrote.

Kentucky LRC

David Byerman

The LRC is comprised of non-partisan administrative staff who help run the legislature, including bill writers, researchers, attorneys and secretaries. It also includes partisan staff that work directly with legislators.

Byerman was hired in 2015, two years after previous LRC director Bobby Sherman resigned amid accusations that he covered up sexual harassment in the statehouse, including a scandal involving former Democratic Rep. John Arnold.

First reported by the Kentucky Center for Investigative Reporting, Arnold was accused in 2013 of inappropriately touching and harassing two LRC staffers.

The women also alleged that the LRC did too little to protect them, leading to a lawsuit with the agency that was eventually settled for $400,000 of taxpayer money.

Byerman was tasked with reforming the agency and according to an internal study released in 2017, morale was up among employees.

In a statement, Senate President Stivers and House Speaker Pro Tem Osborne declined to discuss why Byerman’s contract wasn’t renewed.

“David Byerman came here on a two-year contract, which we extended one year. It has always been our policy not to publicly discuss personnel decisions. We wish him the best of luck in his future endeavors,” the Republican leaders said in the statement.

Byerman’s contract ends on Sept 30. Until a new director is named, the LRC will be managed by the House and Senate’s chiefs of staff — David Floyd and Becky Harilson.

Ben Self, chair of the Kentucky Democratic Party, said that Byerman’s removal is an “obvious move to fully politicize” the agency.

“Previous decisions to place Chiefs of Staff as interim head of the Commission were bipartisan and upon retirement of the Director,” Self said in a statement.

“This decision to fire the Director and replace him with partisan staff right before an election calls into question the independent, non-partisan reputation of the Commission and should be reversed immediately.”

Byerman came to Kentucky from Nevada in 2015, where he served as the secretary of the Nevada State Senate. He was the LRC’s first permanent director after Sherman resigned in 2013.

Ryland Barton is the Capitol bureau chief for Kentucky Public Radio.