It’s no surprise that Senate Republican Majority Leader Bill Dix decided to wait until Black Friday morning to release their internal report on sexual harassment. Because it does not look good at all for Dix, who just last week insisted in interviews with the press that sexual harassment issues were not an ongoing issue within their office.
“I can tell you, Simon, with complete and utter openness and confidence, that there is nothing that has come to me as a result of that investigation or any other conversations with our employees that indicates this is an ongoing problem within the staff,” Dix told radio host Simon Conway last week.
Conway pressed him, questioning whether any problems are happening now. Dix indicated it wasn’t.
“And hasn’t happened for several years, to my knowledge,” Dix said.
And yet, in the report released today (which Dix only relented on releasing after considerable public backlash), senate staff reported that there is “an environment on the Senate Floor with Senators making sexually suggestive comments or about sexual preferences.” They also reported there was at least one specific instance during the 2017 legislative session, as well as another where a senator made an inappropriate comment during a dense breast tissue bill (legislation on mammograms), possibly in a recent year.
Several other statements Dix made last week seem to be contradicted by the report as well.
There are several key pieces of information on this. One, Dix’s press conference with the Statehouse press corp last Tuesday. Second, Dix’s interview with conservative radio host Simon Conway last week. And finally, the internal sexual harassment investigation just released this morning.
The most problematic part of the report (which is only three pages long) is this section:
“I don’t have anything new to report, Simon,” Dix said on the radio show when Conway pressed him whether there were new incidents detailed. “That’s it. I just don’t … I can assure you and can assure anybody, that there are no new complaints that have come to my attention.”
“I’m telling you that nothing has taken place that would indicate any new complaints. So that much should be clear,” he added later.
He was similar in his insistence at the press conference.
“To answer your question directly and unequivocally, no one has brought to me any new complaints. None,” Dix said. “What I’ve been told is there’s nothing new that’s come up in terms of any new complaints from that investigations.”
Oddly, in the press conference, Dix initially hedged as to whether he’d read the report (or even knew if there was a written one) or listened to any of the employees’ interviews. Later on, he admitted he hadn’t listened to the interviews.
During his press conference, Dix often referred to how the Attorney General’s office found their sexual harassment policy in their handbook as appropriate and adequate. He said the same on Conway’s show.
“I certainly hope that our current policies that have been approved by the Attorney General, that they ensure a safe workplace environment,” Dix said. “But again, as I said, my expectation is we can do better.”
The very first “facts and observations” line in the report says this: “Both current & past harassment training is ineffective.”
When Dix was asked if he felt he’d handled the matter appropriately, he insisted that he had made clear with the staff that any form of sexual harassment was unacceptable, and that he felt like that message was received.
“I’ve met with our staff on numerous occasions, reassured them that their complaints will be heard,” Dix said at the press conference. “Reassured them that any complaints will not be met with any retribution whatsoever. I think the evidence is there with no new reports, that that environment exists.”
By that he meant that an environment in which staff feels comfortable to report instances of harassment exists. The just-released report contradicts that.
“Several of the staff members interviewed indicated they possess a fear of retaliation, which is why they did not feel comfortable reporting any instances of harassment,” the report read. “Further, they would be unlikely to report any future incidents, should they arise due to this fear.”
And why might that be? Could it have something to do with Dix continuing to insist that Kirsten Anderson was fired for her work product, as opposed to what the jury found – that she was fired for reporting sexual harassment?
Regardless, the report makes it very clear that some staff still fear speaking out, which undermines Dix’s insistence that nothing new has happened (beyond the other senators’ inappropriate comments that contradict him already), because how would they know? Indeed, the report states that “most staff members who mentioned this [inappropriate comments on the floor] declined to give specific Senators names or details about these instances.”
The report ends by concluding that “it does not appear any provable instances of ‘sexual harassment’ as that term is defined in Section 17 of the Personnel Guidelines has occurred.” The “provable” word there is pretty key, considering many staffers still fear retaliation if they speak out. More very well could have happened (and it seems like it did), they just don’t have enough evidence because staff won’t detail it.
To Dix’s credit, he did say that they need to do more on the issue, even if he also highlighted how their current policies were deemed adequate by the Attorney General. But he said it in a general sense, and not in response to anything specific.
“I think, and I firmly believe this, that we need to continue to challenge ourselves … make sure everyone’s working in a safe environment,” Dix said to Conway.
Again, this all goes back to Dix’s credibility and trust on the matter. Does the public and those working in state government believe that Dix is taking this issue seriously and making the appropriate changes behind closed doors? The released report appears to directly contradict statements Dix made just a week ago when he had hoped to keep the report completely secret.
So, he was either lying about what was in the report, selectively used lawyer-like speak to avoid admitting specific problems, or just plain didn’t actually know what was going on, which is an issue in and of itself considering he made so many claims about it to the press. Whatever is the case, it will make it that much harder for anyone to trust what Bill Dix says going forward.
by Pat Rynard