In multiple press releases issued moments apart today, elected Oklahoma Democrats are dramatically declining to participate in a special investigation into sexual harassment at the Capital.
First, State Rep. Will Fourkiller (D-Dist. 86, Stillwell) refused an invitation to appear before an investigative panel of the state House of Representatives, explaining that he prefers an open proceeding. Further, Rep. Steve Kouplen, D-Dist. 24, Beggs), informed the panel’s chairman, that he would be absent “due to the requirement of signing a non-disclosure agreement.”
The purpose of the special committee is to investigate any sexual harassment complaints lodged against current House members, and the propriety of using public funds to settle the wrongful-termination claim.
The chairman of the special committee, which allegedly was intended to make an internal, confidential investigation, issued a press release Jan. 10 that disclosed the names of two lawmakers who would be the subject of the committee’s investigation. Representative Dan Kirby, R-Tulsa, was named, as was Representative Fourkiller.
According to Fourkiller, “I was in shock. The committee’s press release was the first time I was aware that I would be a subject of the committee’s work.”
Fourkiller said he was called off the House floor in April 2015 by a Sergeant-at-Arms and was summoned to the Speaker’s Office, where an employee of the Chief Clerk’s Office and the House General Counsel advised him he had made a House Page “feel uncomfortable”.
“That was the extent of what I was told,” Fourkiller said. “The page was not identified and I did not inquire. I denied anything improper but immediately shied away from my normal interaction and role with the Page program for that week out of an abundance of caution.”
Fourkiller said that today he requested a copy of his file from the Chief Clerk’s Office, Human Resources and the House General Counsel, so he can find out exactly what was placed in his personnel file. “When they called me into the Speaker’s Office in 2015, I took it seriously but didn’t ever know I was being accused of harassment,” he said.
Fourkiller said that responding to an inquiry from a special committee that is meeting behind closed doors in a confidential environment does not provide him with him the opportunity to clear his name after he has been publicly linked to “the same type of allegations and closed-door dealings” that led to creation of the special committee.
In a letter delivered this morning, Fourkiller told Cockroft, “I have nothing to hide,” but he declined to appear in a “closed, confidential proceeding.” However, his letter stated, “I would appear and testify in an open and fully transparent proceeding with notice of the specific allegation/complaint, identity of any witness(es), and disclosure of witness statements (with appropriate redaction, of course).” He also asked the Cockroft to, “Please let me know if the committee revisits its rules to allow an open proceeding.”
Fourkiller has expressed frustration that this issue was resurrected “21 months after the fact” and that he learned “from a press release” that he was the subject of a harassment inquiry.
Rep. Steve Kouplen, D-Beggs, informed Rep. Josh Cockroft, R-Wanette, the panel’s chairman, that he would be absent “due to the requirement of signing a non-disclosure agreement.”
The fact that only current House members will be investigated by the panel, coupled with “the non-ability to have a minority report,” are of “great concern to me,” Kouplen explained. “I served on a previous investigation with basically the same rules and non-disclosure agreement, and did not believe it provided the transparency that was expected or deserved.”
Since the Republican majority “controls all aspects involved in this investigation, including the HR Department, I find it hard to imagine there will not be disagreements on some issues,” Kouplen wrote in a letter to Cockroft. “Yet without majority agreement, a different viewpoint will be silenced.”
Rep. David Perryman, D-Chickasha, announced last week that he would not sign the confidentiality agreement demanded by Cockroft. Perryman branded it a “gag order” and said it “undermines the independence that I have as a legislator.”