FRANKFORT – Kentucky’s former House speaker on Friday dropped a lawsuit demanding that a woman give back the $110,000 she received in a secret sexual harassment settlement.
Ex-House Speaker Jeff Hoover and two southcentral Kentucky men – state Rep. Michael Meredith, R-Brownsville, and former state Rep. Jim DeCesare of Bowling Green – agreed to dismiss their suit against the woman, a former Republican staffer. The move came in a courtroom in Lexington as the woman’s attorney prepared to argue for her motion seeking the same outcome.
It was the latest twist in a case that toppled Hoover as one of the state’s most powerful politicians. It came amid the #metoo movement that exposed the behavior of powerful men in business, government, entertainment and media – with many losing their jobs.
Hoover claimed the gavel as Kentucky House speaker after Republicans took control of the 100-member chamber in 2017 after nearly a century of Democratic control. He is still a House member.
The attorney representing the woman said Friday that her client was pleased with the suit’s dismissal.
“Her whole goal has only ever been to move on with her life and put this all behind her,” the lawyer, Gail Langendorf, said in a phone interview.
The Associated Press does not identify people who say they have been sexually assaulted or harassed unless they have chosen to publicly identify themselves.
The attorney representing the three men did not immediately return phones calls and an email seeking comment.
The attorney declined comment while leaving the courthouse Friday, the Lexington Herald-Leader reported.
The lawsuit had claimed the woman violated a confidentiality agreement and sought the return of the settlement money plus interest. The suit was filed by Hoover along with Meredith and DeCesare. All three are Republicans.
The lawsuit claimed the woman told two co-workers about the settlement, violating the agreement. Both workers – House GOP Communications Director Daisy Olivo and House Clerk Brad Metcalf – have since been fired and both have filed whistleblower lawsuits alleging they were punished for reporting the harassment. The woman could still be a witness in the whistleblower suits.
In her dismissal motion, Langendorf said the suit was intended to “punish, harass and financially ruin” her client. Langendorf has said her client did not violate the agreement because the settlement is, or should have been, public record, subject to open records law.
Hoover and the other lawmakers paid the woman with their own money to keep the settlement out of court and out of the news. The settlement was revealed by the Courier Journal.
Hoover subsequently resigned as state House speaker. DeCesare did not run for re-election in 2018, but Hoover was re-elected to the House without opposition. And after Meredith easily defeated a Democratic opponent, the House GOP leadership team restored him as a committee chairman.
Warren County Sheriff Brett Hightower is sticking with Chevrolet Tahoes as the vehicle of choice for his department.
Warren Fiscal Court on Friday approved Hightower’s proposal to purchase four Tahoes and lease another four for the sheriff’s department.
Four of the Tahoes have been leased through the Enterprise Fleet Management program, and Hightower is now opting to purchase them for use by the department’s growing school resource officer program that places SROs in each of the county school system’s high and middle schools.
Those four used vehicles will be purchased for a total cost of $31,511.22. The department will pay $2,815.28 per month to lease all four new Tahoes for 60 months.
“We had seven months left on the lease, so there’s a little bit of savings to go ahead and purchase them,” Hightower said. “We looked at multiple different vehicles, but we decided the best thing to do is stick with the Tahoe.”
Hightower explained that he looked at the Ford Interceptor and other vehicles but said that switching to a different model would result in extra cost to outfit those vehicles.
“With the Tahoe, we can use the old equipment,” he said. “We can just switch the equipment over.”
The sheriff does have a plan to move away from the Tahoe later this year when purchasing or leasing vehicles for the five SROs who will be working only for the length of the school year.
He would like to purchase trucks that will not be outfitted with the total police package that is installed on the Tahoes, thus saving some money.
“If we purchase trucks, those SROs won’t be driving them as much as regular officers,” Hightower said. “We can hold on to them for seven or eight years and then sell them at auction. They’ll have pretty good resale value. We’re trying to manage the fleet in the most economical way.”
Fiscal court also took action Friday that could lead to upgrades at the aging City-County Planning Commission building at 1141 State St.
The magistrates voted to grant authority to advertise for bids on renovating the building that dates to the 1940s.
“I think it’s a good thing,” Warren County Judge-Executive Mike Buchanon said. “The building is well-located and accessible to the general public, but it’s old. It probably should have been updated years ago.”
He’ll get no argument from Planning Commission Executive Director Ben Peterson, who said: “It’s an old and tired building. It’s time to look at upgrades.”
Peterson said the planning commission has been saving money for those upgrades for the past two years. The county Public Works Department that is housed in the same building also has some funding available.
“We need to get bids so we have an idea what the cost will be,” Peterson said. “Then we can see if the county wants to put that kind of money in the building or do something else.”
Public Works Director Josh Moore said the upgrades would most likely involve some mechanical updates as well as some cosmetic changes and safety improvements.
The changes are important, Moore said, because the building is utilized by anyone involved with developing real estate.
“We want to try to make the building more attractive,” he said. “When people come from out of town and are looking to develop property, we want them to have a good feel for the area.”
Moore expects to have the project out to bid in “a few weeks” and bring some cost estimates to fiscal court in the fall.
In other action at Friday’s meeting:
There are plenty of public destinations at the city-owned land known as Riverview.
Nestled against the Barren River are the Golf Course at Riverview – soon to be home to the city’s only golf driving range – the Riverview at Hobson Grove historic home museum and Hobson Grove Park.
The problem is getting there.
City officials are now in the planning stages to build a new two-lane road to give more direct access from Veterans Memorial Lane to Riverview.
Currently, the most direct way to get to the area from downtown Bowling Green is to turn off Veterans Memorial Lane to West Main Avenue, wind through a residential and industrial area, make a left on Jackson Street and then an immediate right back onto Main before getting to the property.
A direct road from Veterans Memorial would give direct access to Riverview in a few hundred feet, as opposed to the almost half-mile trek detailed above.
Currently, “it’s hard to get back there, even for Bowling Green residents,” City Engineer Melissa Cansler said.
Someone who can attest to that is Riverview at Hobson Grove Executive Director Brooke Westcott Peterson.
She said the museum has heard from many visitors that they got lost trying to find the home, especially when using GPS directions.
“We have had to email several different mapping companies” to ask them to change the directions, Peterson said.
While the Hobson house has been at the location since the Civil War, a new development on the land has pushed the issue of building a new access road to the forefront.
Earlier this year, the Bowling Green City Commission approved building a driving range at the golf course, a project currently underway and slated to be finished later this year.
The golf course, the oldest of the three the city maintains, is also getting updates, and a pay-for-play disc golf course is also being developed on the land.
“I think it’s good timing,” Cansler said. “I think it’s always been needed. It definitely would give the area a better front door (and) would really help with the utilization” of the course. The driving range and revamped course are expected to draw more people to the area.
While the consensus of city officials has been to move ahead with the road project, the effort is in the preliminary stages.
“We will have to get an agreement with property owners (but) there’s plenty of open land there,” Cansler said. The road could be built adjacent to the former privately owned Parmakers building near the golf course entrance.
“We may need to obtain property from only one or two landowners,” she said. “We have not begun those formal discussions.”
An engineering study determined it may cost about $260,000 to build a two-lane road.
That does not include property acquisition costs.
“We have no idea what that may be,” Cansler said.
Helping keep the cost down would be not needing to do major utility line relocation, she said.
Veterans Memorial Lane is a state road, so the city would also have to work with the state on the project.
Cansler said the project could be done fairly quickly once the process starts, but almost certainly would not be done until next year.
For Peterson, the road can’t come soon enough.
“I think it would be great, especially four our out-of-town visitors,” she said. “A more direct way would definitely be a big win for us.”
In the face of a statewide teacher shortage he described as an escalating “crisis,” Kentucky’s education commissioner issued a plea Wednesday urging the state’s residents to consider teaching as a first, second or even third career.
“You can positively impact the lives of children and families now and for generations to come. You can inspire Kentucky’s next generation of scientists, health care professionals, educators, attorneys and more,” Wayne Lewis said during a meeting of the state’s Board of Education.
“What’s missing in Kentucky’s schools? You. Take the next step toward teaching. Kentucky students need you.”
According to the Kentucky Department of Education, thousands of teaching positions remain open across the state. Since Jan. 1, almost 5,000 vacancies have been listed on the Kentucky Educator Placement Service maintained by the department.
Describing the issue Wednesday, Lewis framed it within a national shortage.
“From 2008 to 2017, the U.S. saw a 27 percent decrease in completion of education preparation programs; in Kentucky that decrease was 36 percent,” Lewis said, according to a KDE news release. “This trend is creating a crisis. As schools begin a new year, districts are still clamoring to fill positions.”
This week, Kentucky’s Department of Education unveiled Go Teach Kentucky, its attempt to solve the problem. The campaign’s website at goteachky.com focuses on recruiting high school and college students and professionals looking to switch careers.
The initiative starts as early as high school, with the Educators Rising program and Teaching and Learning Career pathway. Undecided college students, professionals with college degrees and trade workers are also a focus, according to the news release.
As part of the Go Teach Kentucky campaign, the department is also taking applications for the Kentucky Academy for Equity in Teaching, a renewable loan forgiveness program designed to help the pool of classroom teachers become as diverse as the students they teach. Eligibility requirements and applications are available at goteachky.com.
For Gary Houchens, a Western Kentucky University professor and Kentucky Board of Education member, stepping up recruitment efforts will play an important role.
“It’s really important because we know that the No. 1 factor in student success … is the quality of the teacher in the classroom,” Houchens said.
However, he also stressed retaining the state’s current teachers, who he said have been gradually pushed out in part by the growing list of demands placed on the profession. Teachers are increasingly expected to “triage” every social problem students bring to school with them, he said.
“Teaching has never been harder than it is right now,” he said.
Low teacher pay isn’t helping either, Houchens said, adding that higher wage fields can draw potential teachers away and a lack of funding for school resources can frustrate current teachers wanting to do the best job they can.
“We have to focus on recruitment, but we also have to engage lawmakers in encouraging them to provide the resources that are necessary,” for better teacher pay and more resources for schools, Houchens said.
Currently, Houchens said, the state only funds 58 percent of school districts’ transportation costs, and funding streams for teacher training, textbooks and new teacher mentorship were eliminated during the last state budget cycle. Houchens said restoring money to those programs would allow school districts the flexibility to give their teachers raises.
“When you do things like that, then you free up more resources within a district,” he said.