opinion

Why should taxpayers foot the bill for harassment claims? | Editorial

The Inquirer Editorial Board

Updated: Thursday, December 21, 2017, 4:25 PM

Pennsylvania State Senator State Senator Daylin Leach and Pennsylvania State Rep. Thomas Caltagirone

It’s sad that at the time of the year we celebrate the bright star over Bethlehem that guided the three wise men, we have to be reminded of the dark star that hovers over Harrisburg, and the anything-but-wise men that run that place.

Just days after former staffers of State Sen. Daylin Leach accused him of inappropriate comments and touching, the Inquirer and Daily News revealed details of a financial settlement of another harassment claim against State Rep. Thomas Caltagirone (D., Berks) in 2015. House Democrats paid out nearly a quarter of a million dollars of taxpayer money to settle a complaint against Caltagirone. They refuse to release details, citing a nondisclosure agreement.

This amount is on top of $30,000 the Democrats paid to stop a harassment lawsuit against then-State Rep. Jewell Williams, who is now the city’s sheriff. The Inquirer calculated that House Democrats have paid out $600,000 to settle four claims against lawmakers, two of which were harassment cases.

The money was paid from the state’s Bureau of Risk and Insurance Management, which manages the state’s self-insurance programs, but it might as well have been from a black box, since no one involved felt it necessary to have explained or revealed the details of the settlement. A year after the secret settlement, Caltagirone was reelected.

Of course there should be a prohibition against using public money to settle such claims; State Rep. Leanne Krueger-Braneky (D., Delaware) is proposing just such a law. Meanwhile, Auditor General Eugene DePasquale offered his audit services to the legislature; he doesn’t have the authority to conduct such an audit without being invited. (His recently conducted audit of the Philadelphia Parking Authority was at their behest. If the Parking Authority is able to set a moral example, you know you’re in trouble.)

This is an outrageous example of financial abuse of taxpayers. Gov. Wolf called on both Leach and Caltagirone to resign. We say it’s time for a taxpayer revolt. And if it’s led by females, all the better.

Given the culture of arrested development exhibited by the recent Harrisburg porn scandal, which caught countless elected and unelected officials in its net, it’s probably a sure bet that other harassment dominoes are going to fall.

Meanwhile, if there are lawmakers out there who are nervous about whether they will be busted for bad behavior, we have a suggestion:

Call your current and former female employees to a meeting, and invite them to tell you the truth: Have you ever acted in a way that made them uncomfortable? Do they mind your jokes? Are they squeamish if they find themselves alone in a room with you?

If you make it clear you’re looking for honest feedback that will carry no negative consequences, we’re betting your staffers will tell the truth about whether your behavior is problematic. If it is, or if you are too afraid to do this, that should tell you something. Maybe it’s time to get your own lawyer. But make sure you use your own money.

The Inquirer Editorial Board

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