By Ronnie Ellis / CNHI News Service
The head of the office that monitors Kentucky school boards’ compliance with state law will be the interim director of the Legislative Research Commission, the governing and staffing arm of the Kentucky General Assembly.
Marcia Seiler, 48, will take over on an interim basis for Robert “Bobby” Sherman, who resigned in the wake of allegations of sexual harassment of LRC staff by lawmakers.
Seiler, an attorney, is one of four LRC deputy directors and heads up the Office of Education Accountability, which investigates complaints about school boards and their governance of school districts.
She will begin her duties immediately while continuing at the OEA. She will receive no increase in pay and won’t be prohibited from seeking the permanent position if she chooses.
The LRC governing arm, 16 party leaders of the two legislative chambers and co-chaired by Senate President Robert Stivers, R-Manchester, and Speaker of the House Greg Stumbo, D-Prestonsburg, also will ask the National Conference of State Legislators to conduct a “performance audit” of the LRC operations. The audit will include suggestions for the job description of the director and suggestions on hiring a permanent replacement.
The legislature is reeling from allegations by female employees that they were sexual harassed by lawmakers. Four women have filed complaints with the Legislative Ethics Commission and two filed a civil suit against former Rep. John Arnold, D-Sturgis, who resigned on Sept. 13. A third filed suit against Rep. Will Coursey, D-Symsonia, alleging he retaliated against her after she cautioned him about his behavior toward legislative interns. Both Coursey and Arnold deny the charges.
Sherman resigned on Sept. 20 after an internal investigation found no wrongdoing by the LRC. Two days later, however, he returned to his office and shredded some documents. Kentucky State Police are investigating the incident.
Seiler knows taking the interim post poses a challenge but said she sees it as a privilege.
“Serving the legislature in any capacity is an honor and a privilege,” said Seiler. “The professionalism, expertise, and dedication of the LRC staff are amazing. As acting director, I’ll feel the weight of carrying on that long tradition. But it’s a challenge I accept willingly. The staff, the members of the General Assembly, and the citizens of the commonwealth can rest assured I’m totally dedicated to seeing they’re well served.”
Seiler has a history as an investigator, first joining state government in 1994 as general counsel for the Education and Professional Standards Board where she investigated and prosecuted certified school personnel, including teachers and administrators.
She joined OEA in 1999 as an investigator before taking over as director in 2003. The University of Louisville Law School graduate also practiced law privately with the firm Landrum and Shouse from 1990 to 1994.
Former lawmaker Harry Moberly of Richmond worked closely with Seiler when he chaired the Education Assessment and Accountability Subcommittee.
“She’ll do a good job,” Moberly said. “She’s a wise choice. She’s very professional and she’ll get up to speed very quickly.”
Stumbo said Seiler’s work outside the state capitol – the OEA offices are located on Coffee Tree Lane – made her an appealing choice.
“I think given the situation and the investigation into shredding of documents, it was best to bring somebody in (from the outside),” Stumbo said. “Her office is out by the Vietnam Veterans’ Memorial, so she’s not part of staff here in the Capitol.”
Speaker Pro Tem Larry Clark, D-Louisville, agreed: “She’s going to come over unencumbered and do her job.”
The LRC employs a staff of about 380 – and another 200 or so part-time employees during legislative sessions. It has an operating budget of $34.9 million in addition to the $18.9 million budget of the General Assembly itself.
Stumbo said the NCSL review should include the entire LRC operation, its procedures and how promotions, pay scales and evaluations are conducted. Stumbo said it also should look at how to govern relationships between staff and between staff and lawmakers.
Stivers said the review might take as little as two months or it might take as many as six to eight. If it goes that long, the LRC would be without a permanent director when the General Assembly convenes in January for the bi-annual budget session.
Neither Stumbo nor Stivers had an estimate of the cost of the review. NCSL is conducting a similar study for the South Dakota legislature.
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.
By Ronnie Ellis / CNHI News Service
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