State Sen. Pam Roach is once again the center of attention in Olympia, this time because a GOP-controlled panel has lifted sanctions that barred her from having direct contact with Senate staff.
The action, taken Tuesday night by an obscure panel called the Facilities and Operations Committee, removed the last remaining sanctions against Roach that were put in place in 2010 because of her alleged abusive treatment of a former Senate staffer.
The panel, which oversees Senate staff, has declined to turn over certain documents requested by The Seattle Times about the case. And it has launched an investigation to find out who leaked a report to the media last week about new allegations against Roach, a Republican from Auburn.
Democrats on the committee are in revolt, saying they disagreed with the decisions to lift the restrictions and to investigate the leak.
“We considered the sanctions put in place in 2010. She was supposed to get some counseling and have a plan of action … There is no evidence that she (Roach) has done any of that,” said Sen. Karen Fraser, D-Olympia, a member of the panel. “That concerned all three of us.”
The committee’s move came a day after Republicans took control of the Senate for the first time in eight years with the help of two Democrats, Sens. Rodney Tom of Medina and Tim Sheldon of Potlatch. They have a 25-24 vote majority and cannot afford to lose even one coalition member.
“It just looks like it’s part of the deal to put this new majority together,” Fraser said of the decision to lift the sanctions.
Tom said the sanctions were not lifted against Roach in exchange for her joining their ranks.
“I wouldn’t do a deal,” he said. “It’s been almost three years since the incident that started it all. So at some point it’s time to move on. She’s ready to move on and so are we.”
Asked if she would have dropped out of the coalition if the sanctions weren’t lifted, Roach said, “When everyone is the 25th vote, everyone needs to be satisfied.”
She was also appointed chairwoman of the Senate Government Operations Committee.
Roach was sanctioned in 2010 after an internal investigation found she had created a hostile work environment by berating a Senate attorney, Mike Hoover. Her caucus sent her a letter noting she’d violated Senate workplace policy “on numerous occasions” dating back to 1998.
The letter went on to say that Roach had “demonstrated an ongoing pattern of treating … co-workers and employees with hostility and anger. As your fellow Senators, it is difficult to be in a room with you when you erupt in anger. For our employees it is unacceptable.”
As a result of the investigation, Roach was banned from the Republican caucus and barred from direct contact with staff and counsel. Roach disputed the allegations.
The caucus softened its position on Roach last year when Republicans took control of the Senate budget, with the help of three conservative Democrats. Roach was allowed back into the caucus shortly before that happened.
Hoover, a former Senate attorney, filed a $1.75 million tort claim against the state when Roach returned to the caucus. The case was settled last fall. Hoover got no money, but the settlement reaffirmed the Senate’s commitment to a respectful workplace and to promptly investigate complaints. It also reaffirmed the 2010 sanctions against Roach barring her from direct contact with staff.
Hoover on Wednesday said he was disappointed by the decision to remove the sanctions and considers it “a violation of the settlement with me.”
“More importantly I’m afraid for their staff,” he said. “They have a problem over there, and pretend like they don’t.”
The Associated Press reported last week that Roach violated Senate policy in March by verbally attacking a Senate Republican staffer. The AP quoted a report that was compiled by a subcommittee created last summer solely to investigate incidents involving Roach.
Tom said the report was preliminary and not public record. The Facilities and Operations Committee has launched an investigation in the leak.
Counseling or training
In 2010, the committee said the sanctions against Roach would be lifted “upon completion of a plan for counseling or training that is submitted by Senator Roach to the Secretary of the Senate for review and approval by the committee.”
Tom said the committee believed those requirements were fulfilled.
Democrats on the committee disagreed. “The information that was provided to me did not indicate that the terms of the restrictions had been met,” said Sen. David Frockt, D-Seattle.
In an interview Wednesday, Roach said she has gone through the same respectful-workplace training that all other senators have gone through in recent days, but nothing else.
“Everybody is doing it, not just me,” she said.
She disputed the allegations raised in the AP report, saying they were not true and sounded relieved that the sanctions were removed.
“Hopefully the persecution is over,” she said.
When asked why she’s been the subject of so many disciplinary proceedings over the years, Roach said it was because “someone on the Republican side wants me out of office.”