REP. MILLETT SAYS MEMBERS NOW DON’T TRUST SPEAKER, DUE TO INACTION
House Minority Leader Charisse Millett today announced that because Speaker Bryce Edgmon and House Majority Leader Chris Tuck have shown an inability to properly handle accusations of sexual harassment, she has assigned two members of her caucus as “Harassment Resource Officers.” Call it a safety net, if you will, just in case this ever happens again.
“In light of the recent deficiencies displayed in our current policies regarding reporting procedures and process, I am designating Representatives [Jennifer] Johnston and [Dave] Talerico inside our caucus as ‘Harassment Resource Officers”.- Rep. Charisse Millett
Reps. Johnston and Talerico will get training in how to handle reports of harassment, and Millett said.
The “displayed incompetence of the current Speaker of House, his leadership group, including the Majority Leader and Rules Chair,” have resulted in a lack of trust by their fellow lawmakers and legislative employees, who learned through the media that a report of sexual harassment was kept secret by Edgmon and Tuck for nine months.
On March 13, the two were notified by former legislative aide Olivia Garrett of sexual harassment she endured from Rep. Dean Westlake. The letter to the two was never acted on, and the aide, who quit working for the House in August, finally made the letter public through KTVA this month after she went public with her accusations in front of a “truth and reconciliation” meeting of the Alaska Democratic Party.
Speaker Edgmon has told the media he cannot speak about the matter because it is private, and he has not revealed what action, if any, he took once informed of the harassment.
“This is a confidential personnel issue and I am not able to comment on details of the incident or the complaint,” he said in a statement. “Unwanted sexual advances and other forms of harassment are unacceptable and hinder the work of the Alaska Legislature to do the people’s business. Any victim who comes forward must be respected and should know their concerns will be heard, investigated, and addressed with fairness and transparency. Our priority is to ensure a safe and respectful work environment where no one feels threatened. We strongly encourage anyone who has been subjected to sexual harassment, assault, or aggravation in or related to their place of work to come forward. We want them to feel confident that their personnel matters will remain confidential and private, and that the Legislature will listen and follow through.”
However, the Associated Press is reporting that Edgmon knew of the letter from the aide back in March.
Tuck has remained silent about why he didn’t act on the letter he was given on March 13, which detailed the harassment accusations. Rules Chair Gabrielle LeDoux has also remained mum on the matter, and is believed to be in Cuba.
LEGISLATIVE STAFFERS OFFER THEORY
Several legislative staff members, speaking on the condition of anonymity, have offered the theory that Edgmon, Tuck and LeDoux were using the letter as a form of blackmail against Westlake, to ensure he voted for higher tax rates on oil companies. Westlake comes from a district that depends on oil for its economy and ran on a pro-oil platform. But in early April, his behavior changed and he began acting “paranoid.” He suddenly had a change of heart on oil taxes and on April 10 voted with the Democrats on HB 111. That bill passed the House 21-19 along party lines. Westlake’s vote was essential to its passage.
A call to Westlake for comment was not returned. He is said to be recovering from a surgical procedure on his heart and not available. But he has issued a statement saying that he does not plan to resign his position, even though House Democrats and the Alaska Democratic Party have called on him to resign.
PARALLEL REPORTING STRUCTURE CREATED
Rep. Johnston and Talerico “will be empowered to receive reports and assist in referring concerns and incidents to the Legislative Affairs Agency’s Personnel Office and Human Resources Manager. They are both committed to taking all reports seriously, without partisan or personal biases,” Millett said in a statement. “These officer positions are not meant to take the place of any existing reporting tools or channels, simply to supplement the Legislature’s current policies, and add to any forthcoming revisions to those policies.”
“All members and staff deserve to feel safe coming to work, and to feel that their reports will prompt action – not fall on deaf ears. Please contact my office, along with Representatives Johnston and Talerico, with any questions about this policy addition,” Millett said.