Kentucky Senate President Robert Stivers, R-Manchester, says House Speaker Greg Stumbo, D-Prestonburg, is declining to meet with leaders in the General Assembly to discuss an investigation of sexual harassment claims made against Democratic state Rep. John Arnold by Statehouse staffers.
In two separate complaints, Legislative Research Commission employees Cassaundra Cooper and Yolanda Costner allege Arnold sexually harassed and assaulted them over a period of three years.
A third female staffer, Gloria Morgan, has also come forward claiming Arnold touched her inappropriately in 2009. All three say their supervisors did not do enough to address the complaints.
Stivers is calling for a closed door session on Sept. 4 with Senate and House leaders to learn more about the status of an investigation into the issue. Because this is a personnel matter, legislative leaders are required to meet in executive session, which requires three of the four highest-ranking lawmakers to be present.
Stivers says since Arnold’s accusers have retained legal counsel, it is necessary for lawmakers to know what investigations have been conducted, and what actions may need to be taken.
“I spoke with [Senate Democratic] Leader [R.J.] Palmer and he agreed that we need to call the LRC into executive session on September 4. I have also spoken with [House Republican] Leader [Jeff] Hoover regarding this course of action and he’s in agreement,” Stivers said in a statement to WFPL. “The speaker’s office has declined to go into session to apprise us of what investigations are going on and who’s conducting them.”
The split on the meeting demonstrates a difference in opinion between Stumbo and Stivers in how the complaints should be handled.
Since the story first broke, lawmakers have reacted in a number of ways, including calling for Arnold’s resignation and filing a bill requiring harassment training for legislators.
Others have decried a culture in Frankfort that ignores harassment of women, and the filings have raised questioned about whether House Democratic leadership responded adequately.
Costner says when Arnold allegedly grabbed her underwear in March 2010, House Majority Whip Rep. John Will Stacy told her the western Kentucky representative “was harmless.”
Earlier this week, Stumbo’s office released e-mails in an attempt to show he responded promptly. It shows attorney Cheryl Lewis was hired as a mediator on May 30. And a spokesman for the speaker said it was Stumbo’s understanding that the “parties were satisfied” with Lewis’s efforts.
Costner and Cooper’s complaints filed with the legislative ethics commission obtained by WFPL and The Kentucky Center for Investigative Reporting say they met with LRC staff and Lewis on July 9 to discuss their allegations against Arnold.
But both women told WFPL they have yet to see any results from that probe, and that they were not satisfied with Lewis’s work or the process overall.
LRC Director Robert Sherman has said the investigation is ongoing, and Stumbo’s office cited that as the reason for him not attending the September 4 meeting.
“The speaker’s office believes that we need to allow the process to work without interference,” Stumbo spokesman Brian Wilkerson says. “The LRC Director has already been instructed to provide a formal report upon the conclusion of the investigation. Legislative involvement and discussion should wait until all the facts have been determined and all parties involved have been made aware of the findings. At that point, it will be appropriate to decide what further review is warranted.”