OKLAHOMA CITY — A legislative panel investigating sexual harassment allegations against two lawmakers ran into problems at its first meeting on Wednesday.
Rep. David Perryman, D-Chickasha, walked out after refusing to sign a confidentiality agreement he said hampered transparency and undermined his independence as a lawmaker. He also disagreed with rules adopted by the committee.
Only those who signed the agreement were allowed to participate in the closed portion of the meeting.
“This is simply allowing the majority party to control the information, to control access to that information and to control the release of that information — information that the public is entitled to,” Perryman said.
He said that he did not disagree with keeping some issues confidential, but the confidentially agreement went too far and covered the use of public funds to settle sexual harassment claims.
“It is a kangaroo hearing is what it is,” Perryman said of the panel and process.
House Speaker Charles McCall, R-Atoka, charged the House Rules Committee with looking into sexual harassment allegations against Rep. Dan Kirby, R-Tulsa, and Rep. Will Fourkiller, D-Stilwell.
The House paid $44,500 to a former executive assistant of Kirby’s and her lawyers after she filed a complaint alleging wrongful termination and sexual harassment.
Kirby has said he is innocent of the allegations and that no sexual harassment was found during an internal investigation into the matter.
Fourkiller has said he was made aware in 2015 that a page had indicated he had said something that made her uncomfortable and he had apologized.
Three Democrats and six Republicans are on the committee. The other two Democrats — Rep. Steve Kouplen, of Beggs, and Rep. Meloyde Blancett, of Tulsa — could not make the meeting on such short notice, Perryman said.
Rep. Terry O’Donnell, R-Tulsa, said Perryman and the Democrats want to make the issue political. He said the House needs to move forward and that “playing politics” with the issue should stop.
The House has hired outside counsel, Jeffrey Tate of the Christensen Law Group, to represent the committee. The House did not immediately disclose the compensation for outside counsel.
Jason Sutton, a spokesman for McCall, said outside counsel was hired because it was the feeling that another outside attorney and House attorneys were conflicted because they represented the lower chamber in the settlement process.
The amount paid for the first outside counsel was also not immediately available.
The panel is also looking at the authority of the House to use operational funds to settle sexual harassment and wrongful termination claims.
The committee meetings are expected to be private. McCall has said the findings will be made public.