Editorial: More toxic behavior in state government

If harassers aren’t held accountable, all Kansans should consider themselves complicit

Jerome Gorman, director of a tax fraud investigation unit at the Kansas Department of Revenue and a former Wyandotte County district attorney, is accused of sexual harassment and unprofessional remarks to state government colleagues. (2015 file photograph/The Capital-Journal)

The Kansas Human Rights Commission recently found reasons to believe Jennifer Gill was fired from her job at a state contractor (Equi-Venture Farms) in retaliation for reporting that KDADS administrator Brandt Haehn had sexually harassed her for months. Haehn allegedly sent her “graphic and sexual” text messages (including a video of himself masturbating) and promised her a job at KDADS if she would agree to regularly have sex with him. Shortly after she reported Haehn’s behavior to Equi-Venture executive director Ben Swinnen, she was terminated.

 

Now the state is investigating a high-ranking official in the Kansas Department of Revenue, Jerome Gorman, who has been accused of making incessant sexual remarks to his colleagues (many of which were disparaging toward women) and spouting racially-motivated invective.

Gorman has been accused of boasting about his “work wives” while he was the district attorney in Wyandotte County and saying he hoped a woman at the revenue department would volunteer for the job. He also reportedly said it was entertaining to interview unqualified women (including a Playboy model) while he was at the D.A.’s office. At the revenue department, he allegedly referred to a job candidate as the “blonde with big boobs,” said he was wary of hiring women because they take time off work to care for children and shared his boorish opinion about a talkative female employee: “With legs like that, I bet her husband doesn’t mind.”

This is only a fraction of what Gorman has supposedly said, and there were also his alleged remarks about Hispanics “destroying the Catholic church” and his conviction that he lost to Mark Dupree in the 2016 election for district attorney because Dupree pandered to black voters.

Mark McCune is a former special agent at the Department of Revenue who has been in law enforcement for 37 years. McCune is the one who told top lawyers at the revenue department (chief legal counsel David Clauser and Robert Challquist) about Gorman’s behavior, providing his own accounts of what he witnessed as well as reports from other employees. However, two months after he presented this evidence, McCune was fired. Sound familiar? McCune now claims that his firing was a direct result of his claims about Gorman: “The bottom line is it’s a buddy system over there that I wasn’t fully aware of until this happened.”

We don’t know if this is true. As state spokeswoman Rachel Whitten notes, “The investigation into Mr. McCune’s allegations is currently ongoing by the Department of Administration.” And it’s possible that a complaint from revenue department special investigator Nancy Tellez-Alvarez about McCune’s anger is what lost him his job.

However, the mountain of allegations against Gorman is extremely alarming. If even half of it is true, Kansans should be horrified that yet another prominent government official felt like he could degrade and harass women with impunity (not to mention his vulgar racial comments). As millions of Americans learned in 2017, this reckless attitude and sense of invulnerability is much more common than we thought. And when people who call attention to harassment in state government keep losing their jobs, lawmakers need to figure out what’s going on. The Kansas Human Rights Commission suspects retaliation in Jennifer Gill’s case — what about McCune’s?

As the Department of Administration conducts its investigation, lawmakers should remember that their constituents have a right to know how state agencies are being managed. If harassers and bullies aren’t held accountable for their actions, we’ll all be complicit in the empowerment of their noxious behavior.

Members of The Capital-Journal’s editorial advisory board are Zach Ahrens, Matt Johnson, Ray Beers Jr., Laura Burton, Garry Cushinberry, Mike Hall, Jessica Lucas, Veronica Padilla and John Stauffer.

 

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