Meadows reacts too lightly to ethics rebuke
It sure would be nice for his constituents to hear Rep. Mark Meadows come out with a mea culpa regarding his actions in the sexual harassment controversy that has dogged his office for the last couple of years. Apparently, that’s not going to happen, even after the official rebuke he received last Friday from the bipartisan House Ethics Committee.
Let’s be clear. Meadows himself was not accused of any misconduct toward female employees in his office. His former Chief of Staff Kenny West, however, did behave inappropriately. Meadows, the committee said, did not take appropriate action to make sure his office was free of such of behavior. He also violated rules by keeping West on the payroll after the behavior was discovered and he was demoted.
In the end, the whole affair will cost Meadows $40,000 of his own money and perhaps leave a bit of bad taste in the mouth of those he represents.
Here’s what happened, according to information reported in several news sources who have covered the controversy closely for the last couple of years, including Politico (the newspaper that covers Congress), The Raleigh News and Observer, the Hendersonville Lightning and The Asheville Citizen-Times. Meadows has declined to comment other than issuing a statement.
After winning election in 2012, Meadows in January 2013 hired one of his GOP opponents in that primary — West, who is from Hayesville — to be his chief of staff. In October of 2014, several female staffers in Meadows’ office reported to his deputy chief of staff that they were uncomfortable with West’s actions.
According to the Ethics Committee report released Nov. 16, the female staff members were said to have complained to Meadows that West routinely put his hands on their backs and shoulders, pulled their hair, and stared down their blouses and up their skirts. He also made inappropriate comments about their physical appearances.
“West’s behavior toward female staff was inappropriate in every sense of the world,” according to the report. “There is no place in any congressional office for looking up skirts, or down shirts; staring at a woman’s chest; unwanted touching; or making sexual comments, even if subtle or in jest.”
West was told not to return to the D.C. office by Meadows, but he subsequently showed up at the district office Hendersonville. He was told at that time by staffers not to come back to that office.
Part of the rebuke of Meadows criticized him for keeping West on as chief of staff but allowing a situation where female workers could not interact with their boss. In February of 2015 — after he knew of the credible allegations — West was still on the payroll and was even allowed to offer professional evaluations to Meadows of some of his accusers.
“In addition, the Committee is concerned that Representative Meadows’ ‘solution’ to the sexual harassment allegations, to cut off all contact between Mr. West and most of his female employees, caused another potential problem. An environment where only male staff have access to the Chief of Staff risks unequal treatment of employees based solely on sex,” the report states.
Meadows’ statement released after the report says he asked for the independent investigation in November 2015. Politico says he made the request for an investigation only after the Office of Congressional Ethics had already begun its own probe into the allegations. That newspaper questioned Meadows’ lump sum payment to West in September 2015, two month before Meadows asked for the probe. That prompted the probe, not Meadows’ request for it.
So what is Meadows guilty of? He didn’t act quickly enough to address the credible accusations of sexual harassment. Did he take these accusations too lightly? Voters can decide that for themselves, but some could argue he did.
Then, for some reason, he refused to fire West and kept him on the government payroll all the way until August 2015. That’s why he has to pay out of his own pocket nearly three months of West’s salary.
How about an apology to taxpayers — a simple “I am sorry, I made a mistake, and it reflects badly on my office” — instead of trying to act like he called for the investigation. No, he only called for the investigation after his actions were called into question by the media.
All constituents want is the truth. Is that so difficult these days?