Politics

Kentucky legislative leaders said on Wednesday that the Legislative Research Commission will move forward with seeking a new director.

The director will be tasked with reforming the troubled state agency, which was at the center of sexual harassment accusations involving legislators, low morale and opaque hiring and advancement policies.

The LRC is responsible for providing research and staffing for the Kentucky General Assembly. It’s overseen by a group of state legislative leaders.

Senate President Robert Stivers, a Manchester Republican, said that three finalists would be selected by the LRC leadership meeting in September and a new director would be hired by mid-October or early November.

“We had hoped to gather everybody and do it as expeditiously as possible knowing that we’re going into a session with a new governor and a budget,” Stivers said.

Stivers had declined to start the search until a report detailing low morale in the state agency had been finalized. A draft of the report conducted by the National Council on State Legislatures was released in January.

On Wednesday Stivers and Democratic House Speaker Greg Stumbo said they had sent a letter to the NCSL requesting the final report.

In the letter, authored by Stivers and approved by Stumbo, the NCSL is asked to address “questions regarding the manner in which partisan and nonpartisan staff interacts under the LRC umbrella.”

The LRC includes staffers who conduct nonpartisan administration at the Capitol as well as partisan staffers for lawmakers.

The draft report only reviewed management and operation of nonpartisan staff at the LRC.

The letter also requests that the NCSL compare the LRC’s policy manual to those of other state administrations.

The troubled state agency has had an interim director, Marcia Seiler, since former director Bobby Sherman stepped down in September 2013. Sherman is a defendant in an ongoing lawsuit by former LRC staffers who allege that the agency tried to cover up sexual harassment in the agency and legislature.

The lawsuit is also directed at the LRC, former state Democratic Rep. John Arnold, from Sturgis, and current Democratic Rep. Johnny Bell, from Glasgow.

The accusers allege that they were inappropriately touched by Arnold and that Sherman did nothing to address the harassment despite complaints.

Bell was accused of retaliating against one of the former staffers by firing her when he became House majority whip.

The lawsuit is currently in mediation.

Stumbo and Stivers said that interim director Marcia Seiler would be considered to be the next LRC director, but Seiler was in a serious bicycle accident and is currently working part-time from home.

“We wish her and hope for the best but it may be that she would not return to work. It’s a fairly serious injury,” Stumbo said.

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