Top lawmakers ready to look for new LRC director after releasing draft audit of agency

02/03/2015 06:24 PM

FRANKFORT — More than a year has passed since former Legislative Research Commission Director Robert Sherman retired amid a sexual harassment scandal involving a staffer and a lawmaker, and legislative leaders are prepared to take the first step in naming his full-time successor on Wednesday.

House Speaker Greg Stumbo told reporters Tuesday, the first day lawmakers reconvened the 30-day session, that leading lawmakers will discuss launching a search for Sherman’s permanent replacement at Wednesday’s Legislative Research Commission meeting. Senate President Robert Stivers, speaking later, concurred with that course of action.

The acceleration in hiring a full-time director — Marcia Seiler, head of the LRC’s Office of Education Accountability, has filled in since Sherman abruptly stepped down — comes after Stivers and Stumbo approved releasing last week a draft audit by the National Conference of State Legislatures, which reported a lacking personnel system that has hurt the morale of many legislative branch employees.

NCSL auditors, who submitted their draft findings last April, recommended overhauling the agency’s job classifications, compensation scales and methods for granting pay raises for nonpartisan and partisan staff. As part of its $42,410 contract with the LRC, NCSL will also help the agency locate its next full-time director.

Stumbo, D-Prestonsburg, said he favors allowing the new director to implement structural changes to the LRC’s personnel system.

“My thought is that whoever the director is, that would be the director’s charge,” Stumbo said. “Here’s what the director, as with any new hire, you’re responsible for doing, and I think we (he and Stivers) both agree that that needs to be a rather aggressive agenda, it needs to be a reform agenda and it needs to be constantly monitored, which is probably the biggest flaw of the entire LRC situation.

“There was not enough independent monitoring to make sure the director was doing what the director should have been doing.”

Stivers, R-Manchester, said he supports moving ahead with the search process, adding that he expects the LRC will hire a new agency head by year’s end, if not by the end of the fiscal year June 30.

The NCSL’s auditors wrote highly of Seiler’s efforts to improve communications within the LRC and regularly schedule staff meetings.

That praise could make it easy for top lawmakers to simply hand the reins to her rather than scour the country for a new director, but Stivers dismissed such a notion. He and Stumbo have already discussed evaluating Seiler for the permanent role “in a process.”

“Just as I talked about this appearance of impartiality and everything else, we want to make sure that it is done in an appropriate way, that it is something that people will know was done without preference and totally impartial,” Stivers said.

“So we’re going to go through a process. Marcia has done a wonderful job, make no doubt about it, but we want to put her in the context of everybody else. I think she could be a very good person to fill this role, but we don’t know who the other people are that are out there that could potentially apply.”

Regardless of Wednesday’s LRC meeting, at least one lawmaker hopes to see substantial changes in the agency’s personnel system.

Rep. James Kay, D-Versailles, filed House Bill 262 Tuesday, which would require the LRC to completely overhaul its personnel structure similar to the executive branch’s. HB 262 would call on the Kentucky Personnel Cabinet and Personnel Board to craft a system for the legislative branch and require leading lawmakers to hire a deputy director versed in human resources, at the director’s recommendation.

Speaking to those employed by the agency prompted Kay to file the bill, not the NCSL’s draft audit. Kay modeled HB 262 after similar legislation sponsored last session by House Majority Caucus Chairwoman Sannie Overly of Paris.

“The audit revealed something that I’d been hearing from my constituents and folks who work at the LRC that there needed to be some changes regarding personnel and personnel decisions, particularly with job classifications, job descriptions and pay grades,” he told Pure Politics in an interview, noting he’s working on a committee substitute.

“… Right now I wanted to get the bill out there to start the discussion and start the debate on the direction that needs to take place for the LRC to be the great institution that it is.”

Kay said he spoke with Rep. Brent Yonts, a Greenville Democrat and chairman of the House State Government Committee, after filing the bill and briefed him on basics of the legislation. Yonts “seemed receptive” to HB 262, Kay said.

“It’s a work in progress, but I would at least like the dialogue to start and hopefully we can get something done this session to improve the morale and give people a renewed energy to do the best they can here at the LRC,” he said.


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