- Associated Press - Wednesday, April 25, 2018

JUNEAU, Alaska (AP) - For the second time this year, the fragile Alaska House majority coalition had a member accused of sexual harassment or misconduct.

House Speaker Bryce Edgmon on Wednesday defended how the latest case to become public was resolved, saying lawyers for the woman’s employer and the Legislature agreed to have Rep. Justin Parish undergo additional training.

The Juneau Empire reported Tuesday that Parish faced a sexual harassment complaint in February and was ordered by Edgmon to take training.

The paper reported the complaint outlined 1 ½ years of unwanted public encounters between Parish and a woman who was not identified.

Edgmon released a statement in response, saying he wanted to provide “clarifying comments,” but did not meet with reporters.

Edgmon said the Legislature’s human resources manager, Skiff Lobaugh, received a complaint Jan. 30 from a local media outlet about an off-site allegation of sexual harassment involving Parish and one of the outlet’s employees.

The outlet, which he did not identify, investigated the matter with the Legislature’s cooperation, he said.

One of the outlet’s attorneys, after speaking with Edgmon and a legislative attorney, proposed Parish undergo additional training, Edgmon said. The matter was discussed with Parish, and the training was completed, Edgmon said.

“It was made clear to me through the media outlet’s lawyer that the company was not seeking any further action, and in fact did not want further steps taken,” Edgmon said.

A separate investigation by Lobaugh was not done and such an investigation would have been “inappropriate” because the complainant did not work for the Legislature, the alleged behavior did not happen inside the Capitol or at a legislative event and there wasn’t an employer-employee relationship, Edgmon said.

Despite there being no investigation by Lobaugh concerning whether legislative policies were violated, Edgmon said the matter was closed without a finding of harassment under the Legislature’s policies.

Parish, a Juneau Democrat, did not immediately return a phone message Wednesday left by The Associated Press.

House Minority Leader Charisse Millett wanted to speak with Edgmon to better understand the facts of the case before commenting, minority press secretary Mallory Walser said.

Republican Rep. Colleen Sullivan-Leonard said she thinks Parish should resign.

“We want to have trust with our employees. We want to have trust with the people that work in this building and people that live in this beautiful city of Juneau, our capital city, and I think they deserve better,” she said.

Parish is part of the House majority coalition, which includes 22 of the House’s 40 members. The Legislature is meeting in extended session with big ticket items, like the state operating and capital budgets, still unresolved.

Parish said Tuesday he would not seek re-election, saying he believed a former aide of his, Rob Edwardson, could do the job better. Parish, elected in 2016, told the AP that no other factors contributed to that decision.

Two first-term House Democrats have resigned in recent months amid allegations of misconduct.

Dean Westlake of Kotzebue resigned in December after being accused by female aides of unwanted touching and inappropriate comments. He said he was sorry if he made anyone uncomfortable.

Zach Fansler of Bethel resigned in February after a woman accused him of hitting her so hard it ruptured an eardrum during a night of drinking shortly before the legislative session began. His attorney has said Fansler is innocent of the allegations against him.

Their seats have been filled.

The Legislative Affairs Agency, in response to a request from the AP that the agency fulfilled in December, said since 2008, three complaints of sexual harassment or misconduct had been made against Alaska legislators that were formally investigated by the Legislature’s human resources manager.

Jessica Geary, the agency’s executive director, said two of the cases had been made public and confirmed they involved Republican Sen. David Wilson, who was cleared of violating the Legislature’s policy on harassment but disciplined for retaliation related to the investigation, and Westlake.

The agency declined to provide details on the third case, citing confidentiality rules.

___

This story has corrected the name of press secretary Mallory Walser.


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