Governor Steve Beshear has proclaimed this week as “Kentucky Public Service Recognition Week,” and I believe there is no group more deserving of such recognition than Kentucky’s 390 permanent nonpartisan legislative employees. They have been through a lot over the last couple of years, and they deserve our thanks. More than that, they merit the partnership and active support of the people of our state.
I relocated to Kentucky last week to serve as Director of the Legislative Research Commission (LRC), having served for five years as Secretary of the Senate for Nevada. The staffs of the Nevada Senate and Kentucky Legislature share many characteristics. Both groups have chosen a career in public service. Both have chosen to work in nonpartisan roles, serving Republicans and Democrats alike. And both groups are largely unheralded by the public at large.
But there is one major difference between the staff I led in Nevada and the staff I now lead in Kentucky. Through no fault of their own, staff here in Kentucky work for an agency that has been variously described as “beleaguered,” “besieged,” and “troubled.” When they tell friends and colleagues they work for LRC, they often are met with sympathetic shakes of the head and knowing smiles.
This should not be. Yes, the agency went through a major sexual harassment scandal and subsequently settled several lawsuits. Yes, the National Conference of State Legislatures (NCSL) was asked to study LRC’s operations and concluded that significant changes were needed. And yes, there have been serious questions raised about LRC personnel and compensation policies – or the lack thereof.
But if you look at the draft NCSL report, you will also read, “The survey results on legislative satisfaction with LRC services are impressive and reflect the talent, hard work, experience and dedication of LRC employees.” NCSL concludes, “The LRC has been fortunate to have a strong foundation based on professionalism, a widely shared work ethic and experienced staff.”
It’s time for LRC to get its swagger back. If you ask Kentucky’s legislators, they agree: their staff is top-notch. They know their stuff and provide exceptional service. They work long hours, ensuring that the legislative process runs smoothly and effectively.
Over the next year, while we address the issues raised in the NCSL report, I’ll be reaching out with the hand of friendship to organizations throughout the state. We’ll be getting more involved in the community and building new relationships with partners in the business world and academia. Everything we do will be filtered through the prism of communication: we will strive to make the legislative process more accessible, more understandable, and more relevant for the residents of Kentucky.
So the next time you hear that a friend or acquaintance works for LRC, forego that shake of the head and knowing smile. Instead, thank them for their service. They did not create the recent controversy, but the 390 nonpartisan employees of LRC will have an important role in writing the next chapter for this outstanding agency.
David A. Byerman serves as Director of the Legislative Research Commission.