Iowa Senate GOP seeks outside help to respond to harassment

November 15, 2017

DES MOINES, Iowa (AP) — The Iowa Senate Republican caucus will seek outside counsel in responding to allegations of sexual harassment within the office that was highlighted at a trial this year, the chamber’s top GOP lawmaker said Tuesday, a move that diverts from the party’s response in the House and raises new questions about costs.

Senate Majority Leader Bill Dix told reporters his office has decided to put on hold plans to hire a human resources manager who would oversee harassment complaints at the Legislature. He said his caucus expressed concerns about accountability surrounding the new position.

“From my perspective, I want to be completely open and transparent,” the Shell Rock Republican said. “We want to make sure that whatever we do, it has been done in the best possible way and the most accountable way.”

It’s unclear when an independent organization will be hired and what such an entity will do. Dix said that will be determined, and the outside group could decide to investigate his office’s workplace culture. He didn’t offer more specifics about a timetable for bidding out the work or the cost involved.

House Speaker Linda Upmeyer, the top GOP lawmaker in that chamber, raised additional questions by announcing after Dix’s press conference that she intends to still hire a human resources director. The job was originally intended to be a joint position that assists all legislative employees, including lawmakers and their staffs.

“I believe that this is the right decision,” the Clear Lake Republican said in a press release.

Dix announced plans to hire outside counsel hours after GOP Gov. Kim Reynolds told reporters that Dix and his Senate Republican staff should release any additional information from their internal investigation into alleged sexual harassment within the Senate GOP office. The issue centers on Kirsten Anderson, a former communications director for the Senate GOP caucus, who filed a lawsuit several years ago following her 2013 firing. She testified at a trial this year that she was fired hours after reporting sexual harassment.

Dix maintains Anderson was fired for poor work performance, though a jury eventually awarded her $2.2 million. The state later agreed to pay $1.75 million as part of a settlement. That money will be paid from the state’s general fund.

Dix said after the trial that his office would investigate the harassment allegations. But it was unclear whether an independent state agency would get involved in offering some type of human resources services to the Senate GOP office. Ultimately, the agency wasn’t contracted.

Separately, a staffer within the Senate GOP office who was accused of harassment resigned in September. Dix would not comment at the press conference why the staffer resigned despite repeated questions about it.

Senate GOP staff told The Associated Press this month an internal investigation into the allegations was complete, but no report or additional information would be shared with the public because of privacy concerns. Reynolds said there was a way to share information and protect privacy.

“If this is new information that was not brought out through the trial process, then I think that it should be made public,” she said.

Dix doubled down on his view Tuesday despite the governor’s remarks. Colin Tadlock, a spokesman for Upmeyer, said the speaker agreed with Reynolds that any additional information should be released.

Dix did offer some new information about the internal investigation during his press conference, including that interviews with legislative employees about alleged harassment incidents were recorded but he had not finished listening to the recordings. Dix said his staff did listen, and they informed him no additional complaints were reported beyond what was shared at the trial. But it’s unclear if there was ever a report about the findings. Dix indicated there wasn’t, while Charles Smithson, secretary of the Senate, said at the same press conference there was one.

Discussions about sexual harassment have gained attention across the country in recent weeks — including at statehouses — following the sexual abuse allegations against film producer Harvey Weinstein.

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