FRANKFORT, KY (CNHI) - Some meetings of a special House committee formed to look into charges against Republican Speaker Jeff Hoover are likely to be conducted in private despite protestations from Democrats and the eight Republicans who filed the charges.
Committee Chair Rep. Jerry Miller, R-Louisville, said after Friday's organizational meeting, the committee may at first operate like a grand jury which takes testimony in private before determining if there is cause to pursue an investigation.
"Is there cause? Is there enough there worthy for an investigation?" Miller suggested the committee should first determine. "If we do return a finding that we need to do an investigation then those (subsequent) meetings will be public."
But two of the eight Republicans who filed formal charges against Hoover over a confidential settlement of sexual harassment claims by a former legislative aide and a Democratic member of the special committee want all meetings open to the public.
"It's not a grand jury - it's an open process," said Rep. Stan Lee, R-Lexington, who is an attorney. "I just want an open and fair process."
Rep. Phil Moffett, R-Louisville, another signatory to the complaint, said the public should be allowed to hear the evidence against Hoover.
The committee is comprised of three Republicans and three Democrats from the House and chaired by Miller, the Chair of the standing State Government Committee. Miller will not have a vote except in the case of a tie.
One of the Democrats on the committee, Rep. Sannie Overly of Paris also said she thinks the meetings should be open.
"The Democratic members on the Special committee have not agreed to conduct any closed or private meetings and are disappointed if this is the direction the Republicans want to take," Overly said. "No rules of procedure have been adopted, and we believe strongly that everything should be done in public. Given the seriousness of the charges, this process must be as open and transparent as possible."
Hoover is one of four Republican lawmakers who signed a confidential settlement of sexual harassment claims by a former female legislative aide. Hoover admitted to sending the woman "inappropriate text messages" but denied any sexual harassment or physical relationship.
After calls from Gov. Matt Bevin and the eight House Republicans who signed the complaint for Hoover to resign, Hoover said on Nov. 5 he would. But he has since said he's reconsidering while ceding operational control of the House to Speaker Pro Tem David Osborne, R-Prospect, and awaiting the findings of the Legislative Ethics Commission's review of the allegations.
Moffett and the others on Wednesday filed their complaint in which they charge Hoover sexually harassed the employee; created a hostile work environment for legislative staff; attempted to use his position to cover up the allegations through the confidential settlement; paid the complainant money to ensure her silence; exposed the legislature to litigation and liability; and continues to withhold facts regarding the settlement.
In addition to Moffett and Lee, the other House Republicans who signed the complaint against Hoover are Joe Fischer of Ft. Thomas, Addia Wuchner of Burlington, Kim King of Harrodsburg, Tim Moore of Elizabethtown, Russell Webber of Shepherdsville and Robert Benvenuti of Lexington.
That prompted Friday's organizational meeting of the committee which in addition to Miller and Overly includes Republicans Diane St. Onge of Lakeside Park, Donna Mayfield of Winchester and Jason Petrie of Elkton and Democrats Joni Jenkins of Shively and Chris Harris of Forest Hills.
The committee will meet again Monday hoping to adopt rules of procedure, request permission from Speaker Pro Tem David Osborne, R-Prospect, to retain an outside, independent counsel and be granted power to issue subpoenas.
Osborne said on Thursday the committee will be granted subpoena power.
Should the committee determine Hoover is guilty of misconduct or House rules, it will report its findings and any recommendations to the full House. Miller said sanctions might range from loss of committee assignments to censure to expulsion from the House. Only the full House can expel a member and a two-thirds majority is required to do so.
Rep. C. Wesley Morgan, R-Richmond, has also called for Hoover to be expelled but did not sign the complaint filed under new House rules on Wednesday by the other eight Republicans.
Morgan said Wednesday that perhaps as many as 40 of the 64 House Republicans supported Hoover and want him to remain as Speaker.