When the Legislative Ethics Commission in April fell one vote short of finding former state Rep. John Arnold guilty of ethical violations involving sexual harassment, the ensuing storm of protest was driven by two distinct perceptions of a system failing to function properly.
The most basic of these perceptions was the feeling by many that, given the strength of the evidence, justice was denied for the three female Legislative Research Commission employees who accused Arnold of inappropriate behavior toward them.
On this level, Wednesday’s decision by the ethics panel to issue a public reprimand and fine Arnold $1,000 on each of the three charges against him can be viewed as rectifying a miscarriage of justice.
However, revisiting the Arnold case did nothing to address the other perception of system failure in the ethics commission’s operations.
When the panel took up the allegations against Arnold in April, just five of its eight members were present. A ninth seat on the commission has been vacant for two years because House and Senate leaders have not agreed on a joint appointment.
Since five votes are required for any commission action, to say it is unwise to take up a high-profile case (or any ethics complaint, for that matter) when a single dissenter can derail it is an understatement. Given the firestorm created by the panel’s April misstep, we hope the commission learned a valuable lesson.
But this misstep was simply a product of more fundamental problems involving the appointment process for the panel (that two-year vacancy) and its members’ record of attendance, or more accurately, non-attendance.
Finally, it must be noted that going into a closed session to discuss procedural issues, as the ethics commission did Wednesday over the objections of members of the media, was a terrible move by a panel badly in need of doing everything possible to restore its credibility. Procedural issues do not qualify under Kentucky law as a valid reason to conduct the public’s business in secretive meetings.
— Lexington Herald-Leader