Open government advocate named to committee to look at Legislature’s sexual harassment policy

A legislative sexual harassment policy that has come under criticism, partly because it allows for complete secrecy, will be reviewed by an independent committee in the wake of accusations about state Rep. Jerry Durham that has led Republican leaders to call for his resignation.

Frank Gibson, founding director of Tennessee Coalition for Open Government and TPA's public policy director

Frank Gibson, founding director of Tennessee Coalition for Open Government and TPA’s public policy director

House Speaker Beth Harwell said there have been legitimate criticisms about the 19-year-old policy and appointed the following people to review it: Allison Duke, Associate Dean, College of Business at Lipscomb; Frank Gibson, Public Policy Director for the Tennessee Press Association; Dianne Neal, Attorney; Connie Ridley, Director of Legislative Administration; and Doug Himes, Legislative Attorney.

Gibson is founding director of the Tennessee Coalition for Open Government and continues to serve on its board.

From Harwell’s statement:

If any personnel have suggestions for improvement, I urge them to give the committee their recommendations. At the conclusion of this review, the members will go through sexual harassment training.

As a precautionary measure, I have instructed the Director of the Internship program that interns are not to attend receptions or events related to the legislature, and they are not to give their cell phone numbers to members.

I have never received a formal or informal complaint regarding Rep. Durham. I asked our Human Resources Director to talk to him based on rumors I had heard. As a female, I take this seriously.

Had anyone come forward, we absolutely would have investigated fully. Just as you, the media, initially had no specific names or evidence, we did not either. The story yesterday revealed credibility to the rumors. Again, though, as of this moment, no one has contacted me.

I will add: if the rumors I continue to hear regarding Rep. Durham are true, Rep. Durham needs to focus on his family and receiving the help he needs.

Later in the day, Tennessee Republican Party Chairman Ryan Haynes called on Durham to resign his seat in the state legislature, making the statement at a news conference with Harwell, Republican Caucus Chairman Glen Casada and House Speaker Pro Tempore Curtis Johnson.

The actions come after a story published Sunday in The Tennessean found inappropriate text messages sent to three women by Durham.

The newspaper also examined policies in other state legislatures and interviewed experts who have dealt with sexual harassment claims. (Read: Tennessee sexual harassment policy mired in secrecy, experts say.) When a Tennessean reporter tried to find out how many complaints of sexual harassment had been made through the years, she was told that they either don’t keep the information or Tennessee’s policy prohibits even the acknowledgment that such complaints exist. (Read: Legislature won’t release lawmaker complaint data.)


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