Politics

Years after a sexual harassment scandal shook the Legislative Research Commission, the state agency’s new director has released a report saying that morale is up among employees.

The LRC manages the administrative duties associated with the state legislature, including drafting bills, conducting research and serving as support staff for lawmakers.

Executive Director David Byerman took over the embattled agency in 2015.

“I’m very cognizant of the fact that this agency went through a very difficult time,” Byerman said. “And when I came into this office there was a ton of mistrust for the director’s office.”

In 2013, the agency’s then-director Bobby Sherman came under fire for his handling of harassment complaints made against then-Rep. John Arnold, a Democrat from Sturgis.

Both Sherman and Arnold stepped down from their positions after lawsuits were filed against the men. Sherman was investigated by Kentucky State Police for allegedly shredding work documents related to the scandal.

A performance audit of the agency released in 2015 gave little attention to workplace sexual harassment, but detailed employee grievances dealing with pay equity, hiring practices and uncertain career paths for young employees.

“The perception was that not everyone was able to compete for every opportunity out there,” Byerman said. “We have created classifications for all jobs so now there are clear job expectations and job duties for every job.”

A follow-up report released this month showed improvements in employees’ confidence in hiring practices and overall satisfaction.

When asked about sexual harassment, Byerman said he’s worked to create a workplace where employees trust their own supervisors and the agency’s management.

“That will help us to create an environment where people feel more comfortable reporting issues and hopefully nip issues in the bud before they become a full-blown scandal,” Byerman said.

In 2013, the Kentucky Center for Investigative Reporting detailed a sordid history of scandal at the LRC throughout the 1990s and 2000s.

Former Director of House Operations Kent Downey was convicted in 1997 on federal prostitution and gambling charges.

Inappropriate relationships continued throughout former director Sherman’s watch, according to documents and more than 50 interviews with current and former LRC employees and legislators conducted by KyCIR.

The lawsuit filed against Sherman and former Rep. Arnold was settled in mediation in 2015.

The LRC agreed to pay $400,000 to two staffers who accused Arnold of inappropriately touching them and Sherman of not protecting them from the legislator.

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