Private committee investigates sexual harassment allegations against state lawmakers

OKLAHOMA CITY - A nine-member bipartisan committee began its investigation into accusations of sexual harassment, leveled against two Oklahoma state representatives.

The meeting began behind closed doors Wednesday morning, looking into allegations against Rep. Dan Kirby (R-Tulsa) and Rep. William Fourkiller (D-Stilwell).

Exclusive: Rep. Kirby: "I am innocent"

In a statement, Fourkiller said the complaint against him involved a high school page.

“I was informed by the House chief clerk and a female attorney that one of the female pages said I had made her ‘feel uncomfortable,''" he wrote in the statement. "I do not know what I did or said but, whatever it was, I certainly didn’t mean to do it, and I apologized. That is the only such incident they have ever talked to me about.”

In addition to a decision on whether each representative's conduct impairs his ability to perform his duties, the committee will also investigate whether former Speaker Jeff Hickman (R-Fairview) had the authority to secretly settle the complaint against Kirby with House funds.

"We have to make sure the integrity of the members and the integrity of each of the people bringing the charges are protected," said Rep. Josh Cockroft (R-Wanette), who is chairing the committee. "It's absolutely going to be transparent and open, and that was very apparent in the proceedings the public was able to get into."

But, others are questioning just how transparent the process has been.

Rep. David Perryman (D-Chickasha), stormed out of the meeting angry representatives were required to sign a strict confidentiality agreement.

"I am extremely disappointed in decisions that you have made regarding the special investigation requested by Speaker McCall," Perryman wrote in a letter Wednesday afternoon. "Speaker McCall has pledged transparency and accountability during his leadership. Likewise, you stated last week that you had 'complete confidence in this committee and that truth, due process and the integrity of this body will prevail.' Unfortunately, your actions over the past few days do not indicate sincerity in that regard."

Perryman took exception to rules he said prohibit members from calling witnesses or asking questions without approval from the chair.

He also doesn't like members of the committee would be forbidden from revealing their votes or authoring a separate report, according to the letter.

"Instead of making the confidential expenditure of public funds and the facts and circumstances this investigation more transparent, the Confidentiality Agreement and the Rules of Procedure that you have proposed actually provides you and your caucus with a vehicle to conceal information to which the public is entitled, reduce access to public information and allow the entire situation to be whitewashed," Perryman wrote. "In addition, your gag order prohibits dissenting members of the committee from announcing their conclusions and even from publicizing the fact that they dissent from the version of the facts that you wish to make public. The process that you propose is not compatible with a free and open government."

Cockroft told NewsChannel 4 the meeting's privacy was to protect those named in the complaints as well as their accusers.

And, though Perryman walked out and the other two Democrats on the committee were not present, Cockroft said the committee is still making a genuine bipartisan effort.

"My office has been nothing but open and transparent with the Democrats in asking their participation, as well," he said, citing numerous emails to the minority caucus. "As chairman of this committee, I don't see party. I seek truth and protecting the integrity of this body and the accountability of everybody."

State Auditor Gary Jones, a vocal advocate of government transparency, told NewsChannel 4 the easiest way for the committee to achieve accountability is to keep the process as open as possible.

"Any time you don't have transparency, you don't have openness, it leads to some suspicion of something being hidden," he said. "So, I hope they are as forthcoming as possible. I think the more that they can do to keep that information available and transparent the better it is for everybody involved."

According to the committee's rules, meetings will continue "from time to time" until it "gathered sufficient information to form an opinion."

Cockroft hopes a conclusion can be reached in the next three weeks before the Legislature formally convenes.

Once complete, the investigation will be made public, Cockroft said, as lawmakers weigh whether to punish their colleagues with penalties as severe as expulsion.