Coloradans May Never Know Consequences After Sexual Harassment Investigations At Capitol

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Originally published on June 30, 2018 11:03 am

State Senate leaders are in a position to decide whether to impose some kind of punishment against Sen. Randy Baumgardner.

The Hot Sulphur Springs Republican is facing a formal complaint of sexual harassment -- a complaint a key source tells us has been validated.

But it is not clear who will make the decision or if legislative leaders will ever make the findings public. That's because of Capitol rules that keep the process secret. 

Legislative leaders won't even confirm the existence of a complaint. We are able to report on it only through extensive reporting, often with sources who are nervous about going public.

“This whole problem [is that this] has been very secretive for many years,” said Jeff Roberts, with the Colorado Freedom of Information Coalition. The non-partisan group promotes transparency in government. “There’s been a perception that not much has ever really happened when problems do come up.”

A former legislative aide filed a sexual harassment complaint against Baumgardner in November. She told us that he grabbed her buttocks multiple times during the 2016 legislative session.

We have also confirmed that Rep. Steve Lebsock and Sen. Jack Tate face formal allegations of sexual harassment.

The former legislative aide informed us that the Employer’s Council, the outside group that investigated her allegations, found them credible.

Under the General Assembly’s harassment policy, the accuser does not automatically get the investigator’s report but can request it. Our source did not yet have the document. A senate staffer relayed the contents of the report to her and said “the evidence suggests there should be a consequence."

But who will make the decision about the consequence?  The General Assembly’s workplace harassment policy states that if a lawmaker has violated the policy “the contact person shall inform the leadership of the respective body which shall, in turn, handle the disciplinary action, if any, according to the rules of the appropriate house of the General Assembly.”

The word leadership is key, and how that is defined.  It is possible that Senate President Kevin Grantham, a Republican, could make any decision alone as the presiding member of the chamber. Or the chamber's other top leaders could be included,  the majority and minority leaders.

“To allow the Democrat and Republican side to weigh in on that process, that is traditionally what’s defined as leadership,” said Senate Assistant Minority Leader Leroy Garcia, a Democrat. “Three members from the respected body of the Senate should weigh in on something versus one singular person.”

Republicans control the Senate, Democrats control the House. Garcia said it's important to maintain the confidence and trust of the public, and he believes the integrity of the process is critical.  

“Part of what we do here is deliberate and talk and respect each other’s opinions and listen to each other," he said. "That’s a big part of being in the Senate and the House. And I would be leery of one singular voice in either chamber saying that he/she believes that should be the ultimate say.”

The legal services office at the Capitol said each contact person determines who constitutes "leadership" for  purposes of this provision of the policy. But our source’s contact person declined to comment.

Baumgardner chairs both the Transportation and Capitol Development committees. Majority Leader Chris Holbert has authority over Baumgardner’s chairmanship on the Transportation Committee. Grantham has authority over Baumgardner’s appointment to the Capitol Development Committee, which is a statutory committee.

Many people inside the building, including Gov. John Hickenlooper, have said there must be teeth in the harassment policy and real consequences when there are credible allegations of bad behavior.

So far, lawmakers, aides, interns and staffers are attending training for workplace harassment. The state has also hired an HR person to address issues surrounding workplace harassment, and hired an outside consultant to recommend changes to the policy.

“You could do a million trainings and bring a million people to try to make it better but until people  actually start being held accountable no-one that makes those offenses is going to take it very seriously," said former intern Megan Creeden.

Creeden told us that Baumgardner repeatedly pressured her to drink with him alone in his office in 2016 and also made an inappropriate sexual comment to her before a Senate committee hearing.

“So I’m hoping that this is a push that everyone needs to take this issue seriously,” said Creeden.

Creeden has not taken the extra step to file a formal complaint against Baumgardner, but said she hasn’t ruled it out.

It could be that Baumgardner is punished but leaders don't tell the public, citing Capitol rules to keep complaints confidential.

“We remain bound by confidentiality requirements that exist to protect the integrity, fairness and legality of an ongoing complaint review process,” said Grantham in a statement to us.  “And we are not free to detour from that process simply because someone shares something with the press. If and when we can say something, we will. Until then, we will continue to follow and respect the process.”

Consequences could range from more training, to expulsion from the chamber, to making an apology or removing his chairmanships. Leadership could also revoke his parking pass to the capitol’s parking lot.

Capitol Coverage is a collaborative public policy reporting project, providing news and analysis to communities across Colorado for more than a decade. Fifteen public radio stations participate in Capitol Coverage from throughout Colorado.

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