- Associated Press - Tuesday, January 16, 2018

JUNEAU, Alaska (AP) - Alaska state House leaders followed policies in responding to allegations of inappropriate behavior by former state Rep. Dean Westlake, the Legislature’s human resources manager said.

Skiff Lobaugh addressed the House Rules Committee late Monday, when the committee approved release of Lobaugh’s investigation into allegations of unwanted touching or comments by Westlake from three women.

While there were news reports that other women had said Westlake acted inappropriately toward them or made them feel uncomfortable, Lobaugh wrote that others either did not contact him or declined to discuss their allegations with him.

Lobaugh concluded the cumulative effect of Westlake’s actions and comments created a hostile work environment. He said Westlake submitted his resignation while the investigation was underway.

Westlake, a freshman Democrat, resigned last month. He said by text message Tuesday he is sorry if he made anyone uncomfortable.

Fallout from the incident has spilled over into the new legislative session, which began Tuesday. Westlake’s replacement is expected to be announced soon by independent Gov. Bill Walker from a list of finalists advanced by Democrats in Westlake’s district, and legislators will be required to attend harassment prevention training or risk a potential ethics complaint.

In response to questioning Monday, Lobaugh said House Speaker Bryce Edgmon and House Majority Leader Chris Tuck followed existing policy on addressing reports of sexual and other workplace harassment.

In a March letter addressed to Edgmon and Tuck, Olivia Garrett, who was a legislative aide, reported two incidents of “unwelcome physical contact” by Westlake, including an allegation he grabbed her buttocks.

Westlake said he was a “hugger,” and two witnesses said he went to hug her but she turned “so he ended up with a hand on her lower back,” the report stated.

Lobaugh wrote that Edgmon, a Dillingham Democrat, “counseled” Westlake in March, “letting him know his actions were inappropriate and that they would not be tolerated.”

Lobaugh didn’t use Garrett’s name in his report, but said she reported no further incidents after that.

The alleged comments Westlake made about two other aides’ looks happened later, according to Lobaugh’s report. In one instance, in April, Westlake allegedly passed a note to another legislator saying his staff member “looked really good in her dress” and later commented to the woman, according to the report. That legislator was not identified.

Westlake said he was trying to compliment the woman, the report said.

Lobaugh wrote that two people can see events differently and the investigation must view events through the complainants’ eyes.

Westlake said Tuesday he is reconsidering things he once viewed as friendly or funny and doesn’t think he had touched anyone inappropriately, “but as the report states that is a matter of personal perception.”

He said he has learned from the experience but also is looking at how an appeals process might work. He said he wasn’t told the report would be released.

House Minority Leader Charisse Millett said she still has questions about how the allegations were handled.

“Could they have lessened the amount of victims by handling it in a better way?” the Anchorage Republican said Tuesday. There is value in having a third-party look at that, she said.

“We can learn from their mistakes and it truly isn’t a politicized thing. We’re talking about women who felt they had been violated,” Millett said.

Tuck, an Anchorage Democrat, said the report was released “so the public can have closure on this.”

Critics of the Legislature’s existing policy addressing harassment say it leaves room for interpretation. The policy says managers and supervisors who witness or are aware of harassment “must take action to stop the behavior.”

It’s unclear when, for example, a complaint should be sent to Lobaugh’s office or an ethics committee for review.

A legislative working group is expected to recommend policy changes.

Tuck said hindrances that could keep people from coming forward with complaints must be removed. He said that became clear when people spoke to reporters but did not go to the human resources department.

Senate President Pete Kelly, a Fairbanks Republican, said a safe working environment must be ensured.

“We really think highly of our employees,” he said. “They have to know that when they come here they’re just not going to be part of a smorgasbord.”

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