In what may be a truly groundbreaking new application of media resources, State lawmakers are finding new opportunities to communicate directly to concerned citizens about some of the most highly charged issues at the state capitol.
A case in point is the Rules Committee's work to investigate the Sexual Harassment charges of some of the current and past members. This week, Rep David Perryman became the point person for the minority and he made a dramatic show of his choice to walk out of the hearings. The Rules Committee created a select investigative subcommittee from their own membership, to investigate The payout of money to settle claims of wrongful termination of a Legislative Assistant (Hollie Bishop) who just happened to have filed a sexual harassment complaint several weeks earlier.
Perryman's protest is reported in SoonerPolitics' previous reports: Perryman Decries.. & Perryman Proposes..
As is our publishing practice, the articles were posted to the SoonerPolitics Facebook Group, for readers to weigh in.
Our readers possess incredible insights and knowledge of all levels of government and they never shy away from their participatory role in bringing about needed reforms. This was evident, over the weekend when the controversy over the rules of the investigation were discussed and explained.
Jon Echols: "Al Gerhart, very good point. And I agree with you that the final report must be public (including details of what was reviewed. I actually think you and I agree on most points it is just the process to get there. And I will admit, you have made me think a great deal about the process. At a minimum I think this discussion will lead to a much better final product."
Among the members of the discussion were:
- Rep. Kevin West, A freshman Republican from Moore. He is the vice chair of the Rules Committee.
- Al Gerhart, founder and president of the Sooner tea Party. He is known for being exonerated by the Oklahoma Court of Criminal Appeals, after being convicted of blackmail for telling a senate committee chairman that he will "look into" his personal and business associations, if the senator refuses to allow a particular bill to get a committee vote.
- Rep. Jon Echols, floor leader and close associate of incoming speaker, Charles McCall. Echols is an attorney and businessman, as well as an effective legislator.
- David Oldham & Jet Walsh, active participants in advocacy efforts and constitutional liberty. Oldham was a presidential elector, last month.
Kevin West As Vice Chairman of this committee I can tell you that everything that can be released after the investigation is over absolutely will be. However, you have to keep a couple of factors in mind…
One of the most important components of a workplace environment free of harassment and discrimination is to have a workplace full of people who know they have the protection against retaliation should they need to come forward and lodge a complaint. They cannot feel that the information will not be kept in confidence (and almost assuredly wouldn’t lodge the complaint) if they didn't, especially if they felt that the details would be available for the press and all the world to see. An employee needs to know that each situation would be looked into with the utmost integrity and confidentiality as possible.
As any other entity is (private and public sector), we are required by law through the EEOC (Equal Employment Opportunity Commission) as an employer to make sure of the confidentiality of allegations to the greatest extent possible. We can’t guarantee complete and total confidentiality since we can’t look into the investigation without revealing highly personal and private information to the committee members, but there has to be an accountability measure in place to keep the members held to a standard under law and from sharing that private information.
If we were holding public meetings right now, the press and the public would know every detail of that highly personal information, and it would be devastating for those who come along in the future needing to lodge a complaint, knowing that their lives would be aired out for the world to see.
In short, we are required by law to conduct these meetings under complete confidentiality. If we did not, the EEOC would sue the state and fighting that legal battle would be a costly affair.
However, we can and we will come forward at the end of these investigations and make every piece of information that is permissible and available outside of attorney client privileges available to the public. No matter how much individuals may not like it, we cannot ignore the strict legal consequences and the potential further harm to the alleged victims in this case should we release everything at this time.
This isn’t about playing games or partisan politics, this is about the law and our deep respect for our actions reflecting the ability for every employee to feel safe from retaliation.
Al Gerhart First you are probably feeling pretty important that they chose you to be Vice Chair of such an important matter. I remember another shavetail rep going public with a plan to author some controversial legislation. Others reached out and let him know that I was not happy to hear of his plan. When he called me, about fifteen minutes after he heard, the first thing I asked was who put him up to it. Second question was if the idea was truly in his constituent's best interests. The third question was if he remembered our talk the day after he won the election, specifically about walking into a meeting and not knowing who the mark was and that if he did then he was the mark.
Al Gerhart Bottom line was that the Senator that had put him up for the job was not his friend and was angling to ruin him politically. Now, ask yourself if you were done any favors by House Leadership when they put you in the Vice Chair of this whitewash. Now if you would, take Perryman's objections one by one and tell us why he is wrong and you are right.
Al Gerhart As for the EEOC, here is what they cover on state government employees: If you have a complaint against a state or local government agency that involves race, color, religion, sex (including pregnancy), national origin, age (40 or older), disability or genetic information, the agency is covered by the laws we enforce if it has 15 or more employees who worked for the agency for at least twenty calendar weeks (in this year or last). Obviously the defining sector is sex, ie., sexual harassment. And what does that cover? Here you go: It is unlawful to harass a person (an applicant or employee) because of that person’s sex. Harassment can include “sexual harassment” or unwelcome sexual advances, requests for sexual favors, and other verbal or physical harassment of a sexual nature.
Harassment does not have to be of a sexual nature, however, and can include offensive remarks about a person’s sex. For example, it is illegal to harass a woman by making offensive comments about women in general.
Both victim and the harasser can be either a woman or a man, and the victim and harasser can be the same sex.
Although the law doesn’t prohibit simple teasing, offhand comments, or isolated incidents that are not very serious, harassment is illegal when it is so frequent or severe that it creates a hostile or offensive work environment or when it results in an adverse employment decision (such as the victim being fired or demoted).
The harasser can be the victim's supervisor, a supervisor in another area, a co-worker, or someone who is not an employee of the employer, such as a client or customer. With all of that in mind if you hide behind the EEOC you are irrefutably stating that both Kirby and Fourkiller's actions were more than simple teasing, not offhand, not isolated, and serious in nature.
Al Gerhart Now consider the mood of the state and the entire country. We want the swamp drained. Are you, Rep. West, gonna be an alligator left high and dry and turned into a pair of boots after House Leadership throws you into this wood chipper of a whitewash job or are you going to represent the people that voted for you and bring transparency to these allegations of sexual harassment, coverup, and embezzlement of state tax dollars to pay off harassed women and their lawyers?
Al Gerhart Lastly let's see what the EEOC says about confidentiality: Confidentiality
An employer should make clear to employees that it will protect the confidentiality of harassment allegations to the extent possible. An employer cannot guarantee complete confidentiality, since it cannot conduct an effective investigation without revealing certain information to the alleged harasser and potential witnesses. However, information about the allegation of harassment should be shared only with those who need to know about it. Records relating to harassment complaints should be kept confidential on the same basis.
A conflict between an employee’s desire for confidentiality and the employer’s duty to investigate may arise if an employee informs a supervisor about alleged harassment, but asks him or her to keep the matter confidential and take no action. Inaction by the supervisor in such circumstances could lead to employer liability. While it may seem reasonable to let the employee determine whether to pursue a complaint, the employer must discharge its duty to prevent and correct harassment. One mechanism to help avoid such conflicts would be for the employer to set up an informational phone line which employees can use to discuss questions or concerns about harassment on an anonymous basis.
Al Gerhart I see nothing in all of that that forces employers much less a state government to do anything other than keeping the name of the minor out of the public eye. What you guys appear to be doing is whitewashing the affairs so it can be said with a somewhat straight face that something was done. There is NOTHING in the EEOC laws that says the perverts escape public wrath, nothing that says that other supervisors (House Leadership both past and present) that tried to cover up the sexual harassment gets to have their shame and their culpability hidden. In fact the last part of the EEOC statement says YOU have a duty to prevent and correct.
David Oldham Kevin, Thank you for your work to look into this. I have read what Al wrote and, although I have seen nothing to dictate that a whitewash is in progress, I do agree with him that much more can come out than what Perryman says the agreement disallowed. Plus, in this case the "horse is already gone from the barn" on many issues of privacy. Too much secrecy now is just "locking the barn door after the horse has left."
Plus, Rep. Perryman's criticisms are that the agreement goes well beyond any issue of privacy and if true, such requirements give the appearance of wrongdoing by the committee, and especially leadership.
Please do respond, as Al requested, to each of Perryman's concerns. As a Republican who is critical of any who would misuse the trust we give them, in our party or not, I wish to have all doubt and concerns answered and dealt with.
Jon Echols Al, you asked for a point by point response and I'm happy to try.
His objections 1-3 happened exactly as he asked.
His objection 4 is he is simply angry he doesn't get per diem for meetings. If attending meetings is to difficult he should have Leader inman appoint another member. And by the way, leader Inman, not McCall, chose the D members.
5. The rules do reflect the speakers charge. I have no idea what he is taking about.
6 and 7. The rules do allow that and Chairman Cockroft has not censored one single witness or question.
8 and 9. Of course all votes would be public. That is silly.
The bottom line is this is a political stunt by Perryman.
And I will tell you I will not cover for anyone. If Rep. Kirby deserves punishment I will recommend it, if he doesn't I won't. But under no circumstances would I cover up anything.
Al, your questions are respectful and fair and deserved an answer. I just wanted to do my best to answer them. Your points are fair, but I would suggest Chairman Cockroft and Vice Chairman West, and the rest of the committee, deserve to do their job and be judged by the transparency of the result. I sincerely wish the Democrats would participate. Especially since I personally attempted to call Leader Inman the night before several times to work out any issues. The loyal opposition is important to the process. But at the moment it appears they are more concerned with keeping the story going then with investigating what happened and reaching a conclusion so we can move on.
David Van Risseghem This looks like a big opportunity for more problems, just because it's essentially impossible to keep any secrets at the capitol.
We all want answers now, but we may also cause far more damage in the process of getting honest answers...
Tough dilemma. ..
Kevin West I certainly take this conversation in the spirit of respect. I certainly do NOT feel important, I am humbled and honored to serve District 54 and the people of the state of Oklahoma.
My response to the stated concerns are:
1) The rules were released without signed confidentiality agreements.
2) Change the definition of confidential info. This was discussed, debated and a vote was called to approve the rules as written, which passed.
3) Attend meeting, discuss, debate and vote on rules prior to signing confidentiality agreement. This was allowed.
4) Schedule. It is the goal of this committee to take care of these matters as soon as possible, with the decision to have the Rules Committee investigate these matters it was decided that the ratio make up would be 2:1 instead of matching the total house ratio which is 3:1 then the Democrat Leader requested to select the Democrat committee members, which was allowed, shortly afterwards the confidentiality agreement was sent out along with the date of the first meeting, everyone has had to adjust schedules.
5) Rules to match Speakers charge for the committee. The rules do match the charge given the committee.
6) The ability to call witnesses. This is like any other committee, the members can make recommendations as to witnesses, but cannot individually call witnesses ultimately this is arranged by the Chairman.
7) The ability to ask questions. Again, like any other committee, the members can ask questions, the Chairman has authority to maintain decorum.
8) Dissent majority report. I have not seen where this not allowed provided the dissent does not break the confidentiality agreement.
9) Draft minority report. Again, I have not seen where this is not allowed provided it does not break the confidentiality agreement.
I think I can speak for all members in that none of us wanted to be dealing with these issues, we would much rather be working on legislation, constituent issues, etc., I am extremely disappointed with this entire discussion in that there is no regard for the individuals involved and issues 8 & 9 point out that the minority party is coming to the table with the expectation that we cannot agree.