Legislative Research Commission stalls on moving ahead with director search, finalizing NCSL audit

02/04/2015 03:42 PM

UPDATED WITH VIDEO FRANKFORT — After a whirlwind of attention on the Legislative Research Commission’s administration, top lawmakers divided along party lines on whether to begin looking for a permanent LRC director.

The two sides appear close to moving forward regardless of the stalemate at Wednesday’s meeting of the 16 lawmakers in leadership.

Senate President Robert Stivers called House Speaker Greg Stumbo’s motion to form a search committee “premature” without requesting the National Conference of State Legislatures examine how Kentucky staffs the LRC compared to other states as part of its audit of the agency. That point of reference, he said, is vital as the next LRC director takes up the task of restructuring the organization.

Other Republican leaders backed Stivers’ hesitancy and the motion failed on an 8-8 vote.

“The essence of this is appropriate, this motion to start the search, but it has been my concern and something we have been asking of the House through staff-to-staff communications is to complete and draft a letter to the NCSL to get a finalized report,” said Stivers, R-Manchester.

Stumbo, who requested creating a six-member search panel that would be expected to have three finalists picked by July 25, said he’d be willing to resolve the issue with Stivers in a conference call with NCSL officials before calling another meeting of legislative leaders.

But he saw no reason to delay searching for the LRC’s next director as auditors continue their review.

“I think the question is why not go ahead and get that information, unless someone has that information, if they (NCSL) will bill us more, what they think they need to do other than this and whether or not they can run parallel courses because I think we need to move forward as expeditiously as possible,” Stumbo said.

“… I believe you and I both agree that there needs to be a continuing oversight function from this body to make sure that whoever that new director is is properly moving forward.”

Stivers told reporters after the meeting that as of Monday, he and Stumbo had agreed to move forward on both points simultaneously. His staff received a call from Stumbo’s late Tuesday saying the Prestonsburg Democrat would only move to initiate a search, he said.

“We’ve tried to move the process forward, but I think we have been somewhat stymied,” Stivers said. “And again, as of Monday, it was my understanding we were going to do this and do it simultaneously.”

Whichever course lawmakers take, the NCSL’s report uncovered deep-seeded morale issues within the agency’s nonpartisan staff. Auditors with the NCSL detailed a downtrodden nonpartisan workforce due to a lacking personnel structure in its draft review of the LRC, which lawmakers received in April.

The draft report, which legislative leaders released last week, recommended overhauling much of the agency’s staff policies, such as creating job descriptions and pay grades.

“It has affected their morale,” House Majority Caucus Chairwoman Sannie Overly said of legislative staffers.

“They are disappointed that they haven’t seen more change and more action, and so I appreciate mister chairman you bringing this motion because we do have in hand a draft report from NCSL that we have issues that need to be addressed.”

Stumbo filed House Joint Resolution 90 on Wednesday, which would direct the LRC to create a personnel system for nonpartisan staffers while allowing a legislative committee to examine the agency’s current makeup by Dec. 1.

The speaker told reporters the LRC should adopt a “more business-like structure” for its employees.

“It’s pretty basic employment standards and procedures for a large entity, and that’s what you really have here is a large entity that doesn’t have any type of a career ladder in place, doesn’t have any type of independent evaluation system in place,” Stumbo said. “It really is a rudderless ship, I think.”

Stivers, however, said morale at the agency has improved since Marcia Seiler, head of the LRC’s Office of Education Accountability, became interim director in October 2013. Seiler took over following the abrupt retirement of former LRC Director Robert Sherman.

NCSL auditors noted that Seiler had already begun implementing some changes since taking over, namely improving staff communication.

“I think Marcia’s doing a fine job,” Stivers said. “I think we’re getting a good product. And from what I understand — making sure I keep a safe distance from this process, not to be accused that I’m trying to taint or influence the process — is that morale is somewhat better.”

Kevin Wheatley

Kevin Wheatley is a reporter for Pure Politics. He joined cn|2 in September 2014 after five years at The State Journal in Frankfort, where he covered Kentucky government and politics. You can reach him at kevin.wheatley@charter.com or 502-792-1135 and follow him on Twitter at @KWheatley_cn2.

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