Michael Penn | Juneau Empire file

Michael Penn | Juneau Empire file

Legislators launch secret internal investigation

The Alaska Legislature’s internal Legislative Council is opening an internal investigation, but after a six-hour closed-door meeting, lawmakers on Tuesday refused to reveal the subject of that investigation.

In a 14-0 vote, members of the council, which governs the internal workings of the Legislature, allowed the Legislative Affairs Agency’s human resources director, Skiff Lobaugh, to “view video recordings as necessary” to conduct the investigation.

The Empire believes — based upon prior reporting and the roster of legislators present at the meeting — that Lobaugh will look into a June incident in which Sen. David Wilson, R-Wasilla, held his cellphone between the skirted legs of a legislative staffer, apparently in jest. House Rules Chairwoman Gabrielle LeDoux, R-Anchorage, referenced the incident in an interview with reporters earlier this month.

Lawmakers on Tuesday implied that the Legislature’s personnel rules prohibit them from explaining who is being investigated and why.

“While I understand freedom of speech and requests from the press to understand everything that is happening, there are laws that are in place to protect individuals,” said Sen. Anna MacKinnon, R-Anchorage and a member of the Legislative Council.

On Wednesday, Rep. Sam Kito III, D-Juneau and the chairman of the Legislative Council, said by phone that “at this point, I can’t say anything about any kind of investigation that may or may not be taking place.”

Asked why he can’t discuss it, he said, “There are things that are happening, and given a theoretical — if there is an investigation — and if the media is in the middle of the investigation … it could impact the objectivity of the people conducting the investigation.”

The Empire and KTVA-TV reporter Liz Raines witnessed the June incident and have written about it.

In a separate 14-0 vote, the council allowed Wilson to have “access to material made confidential by the Legislative Council records policy,” and to allow him to have a lawyer present while he accesses that material.

The Legislature’s security camera policy states: “Security camera video tapes, digital recordings, or other surveillance materials are confidential and may not be released to the public or press.”

It goes on to state that the only way security camera footage can be released is through a subpoena or other court order. Legislators themselves can only view security camera footage with the permission of the joint House-Senate Legislative Council.

Wilson wasted little time after the decision: Within minutes, he had arranged a phone call with the Capitol’s security office and was on his way to the office to view the video.

In a separate action at the end of the meeting, Kito announced that the council will create a six-member “sexual harassment and other harassment working group” that will establish procedures for reporting and dealing with harassment in the Legislature.

Kito said he hopes the working group will bring recommendations to the full council early in the 2018 Legislative session. The working group is expected to include three members from the House and three from the Senate, all coming from those previously appointed to the council. None have been named yet.

“I look forward to seeing what they’re able to come up with,” Kito said.

• Contact reporter James Brooks at james.k.brooks@juneauempire.com or call 523-2258.

Rep. Sam Kito III, D-Juneau, and Sen. Bert Stedman, R-Sitka, preside over a meeting of the Alaska Legislature’s Legislative Council on Tuesday, Nov. 21, 2017. (James Brooks | Juneau Empire)

Rep. Sam Kito III, D-Juneau, and Sen. Bert Stedman, R-Sitka, preside over a meeting of the Alaska Legislature’s Legislative Council on Tuesday, Nov. 21, 2017. (James Brooks | Juneau Empire)

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