FRANKFORT — Kentucky Legislative Research Commission leaders on Wednesday elected a new acting director and authorized an audit of the nonpartisan state agency's operations in the wake of the LRC’s handling of sexual harassment complaints.
Lawmakers—who make up the LRC's leadership panel—chose Marcia Seiler by a unanimous 15-0 vote to replace Robert Jenkins, who was named as interim director last month after the resignation of his supervisor, Robert Sherman.
Sherman served as the LRC’s executive director for 14 years, and resigned in Septbemer amid fallout from the controversy involving former state Rep. John A. Arnold, who has been accused by three female state staffers of sexual harassment and assault.
The decision came a day after three LRC staffers filed lawsuits against the agency and others claiming sexual harassment and retaliation.
The 16-member LRC leadership board voted to enter negotiations with the National Conference of State Legislatures to conduct a performance audit of the agency and to assist the legislature in the process of choosing a permanent director of the LRC.
The NCSL is a “bipartisan organization that serves the legislators and staffs of the nation's 50 states, its commonwealths and territories” that “provides research, technical assistance and opportunities for policymakers to exchange ideas on the most pressing state issues,” according to its website. The NCSL has offices in Denver, Colo., and Washington, D.C.
State Senate President Robert Stivers told fellow lawmakers that he had directed his deputy chief of staff, Jay Hartz, to solicit advice from the NCSL about how other states have gone about the process of choosing a director for their legislative support agencies.
Hartz said that the NCSL recently conducted a performance audit of South Dakota’s Legislative Research Council, which is that legislature’s LRC equivalent. He said that the NCSL compared it with 10 other states’ legislatures, and that the organization also surveyed members of the South Dakota legislature on what they wanted in a new director and created a screening committee for its hiring process. Hartz said the legislature was satisfied with the options NCSL provided them.
The panel voted unanimously to send liaisons from the majority and minority caucuses of the state House and Senate to work with Hartz in soliciting an audit of the LRC from the NCSL, help with finding a permanent director, and how much that would cost.
Stivers indicated that the NCSL would provide similar services for the LRC, calling it a top to bottom review of how the agency conducts business on a day-to-day basis.
Such an audit, House Speaker Greg Stumbo said, should include looking at pay for staffers and how promotions, evaluations and added compensation should happen. Neither Stivers nor Stumbo offered specifics on how much the audit would cost taxpayers. WFPL contacted NCSL public affairs representatives; they could not immediately provide that information.
The lack of policies on inter-office relationships has led to criticism from current and former state officials.
When asked if the criteria for such an audit would include looking at changing LRC rules that govern relationships between superiors and subordinate staff, Stumbo said that it should be included.
He said that he had not read all of the LRC’s policy governing personal relationships between LRC staffers, and did not say whether he thinks the policy should be changed.
Seiler Has 'Fine Reputation'
Seiler is the director of the state’s Office of Education Accountability, a branch of the LRC created by the Kentucky Education Reform Act of 1990 tasked with researching education issues for the legislature and conducting investigations into complaints against school officials and district operations as they arise.
Phone calls to Seiler’s office and an e-mail to her LRC address seeking comment for this story were not immediately returned.
In a written statement provided to WFPL, Seiler emphasized her dedication to the task at hand.
“As acting director, I'll feel the weight of carrying on that long tradition,” she wrote. “But it's a challenge I accept willingly. The staff, the members of the General Assembly, and the citizens of the Commonwealth can rest assured I'm totally dedicated to seeing they're well served.”
She did not respond to written questions asking how she would handle the issue of sexual harassment complaints, or her beliefs governing relationships between LRC staff.
As OEA director, Seiler’s current annual salary is $121,200. Stivers, a Republican from Manchester, said that her salary would not change in her new role as acting director of the LRC.
The OEA is home to 12 full-time employees, with five part-time employees working as needed. The LRC, by contrast, boasts 380 employees during interim sessions of the General Assembly, and as many as 630 during a legislative session—with a $34.9 million annual budget.
Seiler will serve as interim director for several months until the process of finding a permanent director is complete, said Stumbo, a Democrat from Prestonsburg.
“We’re gonna get this right, and we’re gonna do it right,” Stumbo said. “And we’re gonna change things going forward and make sure that this commission functions in a proper manner and in a solid manner.”
Sherman, who served as the LRC’s executive director, has been named in a lawsuit alleging he retaliated against a female RLC employee after she complained about alleged misconduct by a Democratic state legislator. Sherman is also under investigation by the Kentucky State Police for shredding LRC documents at his office following his resignation.
Stumbo said that he did not know Seiler personally, but that she has a “fine reputation” in Frankfort. He did not comment when asked about being named in a lawsuit brought by two LRC staffers alleging retaliation.
Seiler has been the OEA’s director since 2003, and worked as an OEA investigator from 1999 until 2003.Before that, she served as general counsel to the state Education Professional Standards Board for five years and worked as an attorney for the Louisville firm of Landrum and Shouse from 1990 to 1994. Seiler obtained her law degree from the University of Louisville in 1990, and holds a bachelor’s in communication from the University of Kentucky.