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Neighbors Growing Together | Aug 19, 2018

Preventing sexual harassment at statehouse takes detour

Despite verdict, Senate leader demurs on hiring HR officer
By Rod Boshart, Gazette Des Moines Bureau | Nov 15, 2017
Photo by: Photo by Rod Boshart Senate Majority Leader Bill Dix, R-Shell Rock, talks with reporters Tuesday in his statehouse office about his plans to put the hiring of a human resources officer on hold temporarily to seek outside professional advice on how best to address issues related to sexual harassment in the workplace.

DES MOINES — The Republican leader of the Iowa Senate did an about face Tuesday, saying a plan to hire a human resources officer in the wake of a costly sexual harassment verdict is on hold while he and his staff consult with an independent professional.

Senate Majority Leader Bill Dix, R-Shell Rock, said the decision was made after an employee raised accountability concerns over plans unveiled Monday to establish a director of human resources to report to the Secretary of the Senate and the Chief Clerk of the House — who both are political appointees.

“We’re not saying that’s not going to happen. We’re delaying that decision until we get the advice of an outside professional,” said Dix, who did not have a timetable or cost associated with a new hire other than to say, “I think we should move forward as quickly as possible.”

But within minutes of the conclusion of Dix’s news conference, House Speaker Linda Upmeyer, R-Clear Lake, issued a statement saying the Iowa House will proceed separately with hiring a human resources director: “I believe that this is the right decision.”

Upmeyer indicated the human resources professional — who would cover the House, Legislative Services Agency and ombudsman’s office — will provide “expertise and continuity in an increasingly complex field in order to provide the best working environment we can for our employees.”

That person would review policies, look into employee complaints and help with hirings, job evaluations and firings.

Workplace rules became an issue at the Statehouse most recently when Kirsten Anderson, a former state Senate Republican Caucus Staff communications director, said she was fired hours after complaining of sexual harassment on the job. A jury found in her favor, and the state paid $1.75 million to settle without an appeal.

Tuesday, Dix stood by his contention that Anderson was fired for poor work performance, but he conceded that “the jury saw it differently.”

He said an internal investigation was completed and a review both by his staff and the Attorney General’s Office determined existing policies were appropriate and provided a safe work environment. But he continued to insist that the investigation’s findings stay secret.

“At a future time I might reconsider that if an outside organization deems that to be the best thing. The reason I hesitate now is that that investigation took place with the expectation of the employees to provide that information confidentially,” he said.

Dix did say one employee resigned after the Anderson court case.

During her weekly news conference earlier Tuesday, GOP Gov. Kim Reynolds said she thought hiring a human resources officer would be the right move. She said she believed the Senate majority leader should release the review of sexual harassment allegations against his staff if there’s more information than what came to light during last summer’s trial.

“I do believe that if there are additional facts that were not brought out through the trial process, being cognizant of personal information, I think that they need to be transparent and open and that they should release that information,” she told reporters. “I think there’s a way to do that and I think they need to do that.”

Iowa Democratic Party Chair Troy Price reiterated his call for Dix to step down as Senate majority leader and said he hoped Reynolds would join in.

“From the very beginning of this scandal nearly four years ago, Bill Dix has consistently blocked any attempt to find out more about the sexual harassment allegations in the GOP Senate Caucus, and refusing to release this report is only the latest in a long series of efforts to protect those who sexually harass co-workers over those who have been harassed.”

Dix said it is his personal responsibility to take care of the work environment in his office and he has attempted to handle the situation in the best way possible.

“I’m trying to do the right thing and that story doesn’t get told,” he said.

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