Politics

The new director of the Legislative Research Commission says the state agency needs to get its “swagger back” after a years-long sexual harassment scandal and reports of low morale.

The LRC runs much of the administration at the state Capitol and also manages staffers who work for state lawmakers.

David Byerman started work as the LRC’s new director last Thursday. The last full-time director, Bobby Sherman, resigned from the position in September 2013, after accusations that he covered up sexual harassment in the state agency and had an ongoing romantic relationship with one of his subordinates.

During a presentation on Wednesday to the panel of lawmakers that oversees the LRC, Byerman said he’s going to create a new structure for the state agency, which House Speaker Greg Stumbo previously called “a rudderless ship.”

“We have the right workforce, we just need for the level of leadership to rise to the level of performance we’re already getting from our employees,” Byerman said.

A National Conference of State Legislatures audit of the LRC found that the state agency had low morale in part due to unclear hiring and compensation practices. Employees also said hiring and compensation were influenced by favoritism.

After the presentation, Byerman said that during private meetings, employees have reinforced the NCSL’s findings. He said reforming the LRC’s compensation system will take time.

“If you have people being overpaid, what do you do? Do you promote them? Do you make them do more work for the pay that they currently have? That’s one option. Do you fire them if they’re overcompensated for the job? I don’t know the answer to that yet,” Byerman said.

The LRC’s troubles were made public when two staffers sued former state Rep. John Arnold, a Democrat from Sturgis. They accused Arnold of inappropriately touching them.

Arnold later resigned, was fined $3,000 by the Legislative Ethics Commission, and eventually settled the case with the women. Former LRC Director Bobby Sherman, the LRC, Rep. Johnny Bell and Rep. Will Coursey were also defendants in the case.

When asked if he had any plans to reign in lawmakers who misbehave, Byerman said he did not.

“My charge is to oversee the 320 nonpartisan staff of LRC and to protect those employees. I am not in charge of disciplining members of the legislature, that is not in my job description,” Byerman said.

During the meeting, Stumbo, a Prestonsburg Democrat, said he “felt as much responsibility as anyone” for not monitoring the actions taken by former LRC Director Sherman.

“It was my job to watch him, and maybe I didn’t watch him as much as I should have,” Stumbo said.

He went on to say that once allegations against Arnold came to light, he asked all LRC employees to bring any complaints directly to him, an offer that no one took.

“No one came. Which I think is a testament to the fact that much of what was reported in the media may have been over-exaggerated,” Stumbo said.

Byerman relocated from Nevada last week. During the meeting, the panel presented him with a certificate, notifying him that he was now a Kentucky Colonel.

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