TIMES TRIBUNE (CORBIN, Ky.)
By Ronnie Ellis / CNHI News Service
Frankfort’s sexual harassment controversy took another turn Tuesday with lawmakers calling for an investigation by Kentucky State Police into reports of document shredding.
The Courier-Journal reported Monday that Bobby Sherman, who resigned Friday as director of the Legislative Research Commission, went to his office Sunday with other LRC employees and shredded documents.
Sherman abruptly resigned amid an ongoing investigation into allegations of sexual harassment against former Rep. John Arnold, D-Sturgis, by two female employees of the LRC. Arnold contends he has done nothing wrong, but he resigned from the legislature on Sept. 13, saying he has been “destroyed politically” by the allegations.
On Wednesday House Minority Leader Jeff Hoover, R-Jamestown, citing the shredding story, sent a letter to Senate President Robert Stivers, R-Manchester, and House Speaker Greg Stumbo, D-Prestonsburg, urging them “to request the Kentucky State Police to promptly investigate this matter. The citizens of the commonwealth are owed the assurance of knowing their government operates in an ethical matter.”
Later the same day, Stumbo’s press office released Hoover’s letter and one from LRC Deputy Director Robert Jenkins explaining what sort of documents were shredded Sunday. Jenkins, along with Roy Collins, the LRC assistant director for Human Resources, Steve King, an inventory control supervisor, and Rita Ratliff, an administrative officer for the legislative process, were with Sherman when he shredded the documents Sunday.
The release also included a memo from Stumbo to Rick Devers, KSP legislative security specialist, asking him to provide KSP with the letters and his request that KSP “take whatever actions it deems appropriate.”
Jenkins’ memo to Stivers and Stumbo was a response to their request for assurance that no files related to the investigation into the sexual harassment allegations were among the documents shredded Sunday.
“I wish to reiterate that no information related to any threatened litigation was destroyed,” Jenkins wrote. He said those documents related to the investigation have always been maintained “in the office of Mr. Collins, who, in his capacity as Assistant Director for Human Resources, is the appropriate record holder. Mr. Sherman, Mr. Collins, and Ms. Ratliff have confirmed that no litigation records were destroyed.”
Jenkins said that documents destroyed Sunday “were either duplicates or other material that was safe to be destroyed.” The documents shredded constituted “fifteen years’ worth of stacked up chronological junk” dating to the time Sherman was hired as LRC Director in 1999.
He went on to tell Stumbo and Stivers that the documents included “personal junk mail,” information related to refinancing a house mortgage, various memoranda regarding committee meetings or lawmaker travel, salary lists for staff and other routine memoranda.
Both Stumbo and Stivers have said they were unaware that Sherman returned to his office after resigning and shredded papers.
Hoover’s letter also raised another question which was being asked around the capitol this week – why, after resigning on Friday, was Sherman in the building Sunday and how did he gain access to the building?
A spokesman for KSP said that the agency had not yet received a request to investigate the matter.
Sherman’s resignation and the revelation he shredded documents over the weekend come in the midst of an investigation into allegations by three LRC female employees that they were sexually harassed by Arnold.
Cassaundra Cooper and Yolanda Costner filed complaints with the Legislative Ethics Commission which indicated they’d also registered complaints with the LRC. Their complaints indicated they were unsatisfied with how Sherman and others responded to their charges.
A third woman, Gloria Morgan, subsequently filed a third complaint against Arnold with the ethics commission, also charging her complaints weren’t taken seriously by the LRC staff.
Thomas Clay, an attorney who represents Cooper and Costner, has repeatedly hinted his clients may file suit in Franklin Circuit Court over the failure of Sherman and the LRC to protect them in their workplaces. He raised the possibility that information related to the investigation of their complaints might have been among the documents shredded by Sherman over the weekend.
Sherman’s resignation letter said he has been “contemplating the appropriate time for my retirement” for some time and might have done so earlier “except for my desire to follow through with supervision and support of a staff investigation of work-related harassment complaints.”
In his letter of resignation, Sherman called the internal investigation of the sexual harassment complaints “thorough and strenuous” and the complaints “were addressed promptly, fully examined, and protective measures implemented.”
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.