Slidell lawmaker hopes to strengthen state procedures
BATON ROUGE — A Louisiana state senator wants a review of state government hiring practices and policies for handling sexual-misconduct allegations after a top aide to Gov. John Bel Edwards resigned following harassment accusations.
Sen. Sharon Hewitt, a Slidell Republican, is asking the legislative auditor to compare Louisiana’s policies for handling allegations to those of other states and recommend ways to strengthen procedures. She also wants a tally of how much Louisiana agencies spent on sexual-harassment settlements over the past five years.
“Sexual harassment has no place in state government or in the private workplace,” Hewitt wrote in the letter, released Wednesday. “All people have the right to work in a safe environment, without unwanted sexual advances or pressure to trade sexual favors in exchange for job security or promotions.”
Hewitt’s request to Legislative Auditor Daryl Purpera comes a week after Johnny Anderson left his job as the Democratic governor’s deputy chief of staff for programs and planning, after being accused of sexual harassment.
Anderson denies wrongdoing and said he intends to fight the allegations. He said he resigned to avoid becoming a “distraction” for the governor. “I was not resigning because of guilt.”
No specific claim has been released publicly, though the governor’s office confirmed the allegations were made and an investigation is ongoing. Edwards Chief of Staff Mark Cooper said Wednesday that “sexual harassment in state government will not be tolerated.”
“The investigation that is currently under way will review the state’s policies regarding sexual harassment, not just within the executive branch, and we will work with Sen. Hewitt and the entire legislature to promote a safe, positive work environment for all state employees,” Cooper said in a statement.
Hewitt questioned how Anderson was hired after he was accused of sexual harassment in 2006 when he worked as assistant chief of staff for then-Gov. Kathleen Blanco and was chairman of the Southern University System Board of Supervisors.
“Louisiana citizens deserve to know how someone with a history of sexual harassment allegations managed (to) get a high-paying job on the governor’s executive staff,” Hewitt said in a statement. “A full investigation into this situation will tell us whether it was a failure of our state policies or of our politicians, who put women in harm’s way again.”
Eleven years ago, Anderson was accused of sexual harassment by some university employees and temporarily stepped down as Southern board chairman in a dispute with the university system president over the allegations.
Responding to questions about Anderson’s hiring, Cooper said: “Previous investigations regarding sexual-harassment claims against a former employee did not conclude any wrongdoing. However, this administration takes this matter seriously, which is why the governor acted so quickly.”
Anderson has maintained his innocence about the accusations made in 2006, claiming they were politically motivated, and he said he was “exonerated.”
Blanco ordered an investigation at the time, but the lawyer who led the review said the university system didn’t cooperate, making it difficult to determine if the allegations had merit, according to news media reports.