By Ronnie Ellis
CNHI News Service
Democratic House Speaker Greg Stumbo wants Wednesday’s meeting of the Legislative Research Commission, where allegations of sexual harassment against Rep. John Arnold, D-Sturgis, will be discussed, to be open to the public.
But it apparently won’t be, although it may be recorded to preserve an accurate record of what occurs.
The LRC, made up of 16 House and Senate leaders from both parties, is scheduled to meet at 10 a.m. Wednesday. Senate President Robert Stivers, R-Manchester, requested the meeting be closed so lawmakers could be informed of the status of any investigation of the allegations.
Three female employees of the legislature have filed sexual harassment complaints against Arnold, 69, with the Legislative Ethics Commission, accusing him of improper physical contact and making lewd and vulgar comments. News of the complaints was first broadcast by WFPL Public Radio during the General Assembly’s special session Aug. 19-23.
The women also said they previously complained to supervisors and LRC Director Bobby Sherman to no avail.
Thomas Clay, attorney for two of the women, has said his clients are contemplating filing suit against the legislature in Franklin Circuit Court.
In their complaints to the ethics panel, the women allege the unwelcome behavior extends back as far as 2009. Stumbo has released emails from his General Counsel and Chief of Staff to Sherman requesting that he investigate charges of sexual harassment and provide a report on his investigation.
Last week, Stumbo appointed a select committee of House members to investigate the allegations against Arnold. The committee can recommend to the full House that Arnold be censured or expelled when the General Assembly convenes in January.
Stivers has said he knew nothing of either the allegations or Sherman’s investigation until the news reports of the women’s complaints. That’s why he called for Wednesday’s LRC meeting, a request in which he was joined by House Minority Leader Jeff Hoover, R-Jamestown, and Senate Minority Leader R.J. Palmer, D-Winchester.
Tuesday, Stumbo released a letter he’d sent to Stivers “to suggest a transparent and responsible procedure” for the Wednesday meeting, requesting the meeting “be open to the public.”
In the event the majority of the LRC votes to go into closed session, Stumbo wants the closed meeting “recorded and transcribed to ensure that we all have an accurate record of the meeting.”
Stumbo’s letter goes on to say that if any of the women file suit, LRC members might be called to testify, and therefore “it is essential to record the proceedings to avoid differing recollections.”
Stivers apparently will choose the latter option.
His spokeswoman, Lourdes Baez said Stivers, “will call the LRC into executive session (Wednesday) and it will be recorded.”
Also, the select committee Stumbo named is scheduled to meet Thursday for the first time, according to one of its members, Rep. Arnold Simpson, D-Covington.
Simpson wouldn’t say what the committee’s plans are other than its first meeting is Thursday.
The other members of the committee are Democrats Rita Smart of Richmond and Jeff Donahue of Louisville; the Republicans are Julie Adams of Louisville and Robert Benvenuti of Lexington.
Ronnie Ellis writes for CNHI News Service and is based in Frankfort. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow CNHI News Service stories on Twitter at www.twitter.com/cnhifrankfort.