While Minnesota House Speaker Kurt Zellers, R-Maple Grove, and other Republican leaders call on Rep. Kerry Gauthier, DFL-Duluth, to resign because he brought “dishonor” to the Legislature, an employee of the Minnesota House is drawing a public paycheck even though he’s been charged with 12 counts of possessing child pornography.
House GOP leaders put Rory Koch, 39, of St. Paul, on paid administrative leave on March 7 after learning he was charged by Ramsey County prosecutors on March 5. Koch served as the Committee Administrator for the House Government Operations and Elections Committee.
Koch was put on unpaid administrative leave on June 7 but continues to draw down his vacation balance and receives health benefits, according to officials within the Minnesota House Human Resources Department.
“He was paid on Aug. 15 and without a change in status we’ll continue to pay him,” said House Comptroller Greg Crowe.
Koch has collected $14,814 in salary since he was first put on leave in March. He’s collected $1,200 of that since he started drawing down his vacation balance in June. Koch has been using roughly eight hours of vacation time a week to keep his employment active. House Human Resources Administrator Kelly Knight says Koch has 231 hours of vacation available to use.
Koch’s leave comes at a time when Republicans are making an issue out of Gauthier’s decision to continue to take a salary and benefits after being caught up in another scandal.
House GOP leaders openly discussed taking up a motion to expel Gauthier during last Friday’s special session after it became public that he engaged in a sexual act with a 17-year-old boy in a public rest area near Duluth. Gauthier was not arrested or charged with a crime. Zellers told reporters on Friday that he declined to bring up the motion to expel Gauthier because there wasn’t enough time to give Gauthier a fair hearing.
But that didn’t stop Zellers from saying Gauthier should step down.
“He’s brought disrepute and a lot of dishonor to the House of Representatives,” Zellers said of Gauthier.
Gauthier announced last week that he will not continue his run for re-election. Officials in both political parties condemned him and several Democrats urged him to end his bid for re-election. Short of calling for his resignation, Zellers said there was little he could do to remove Gauthier from office. But House GOP leaders have broader power when it comes to hiring and firing legislative staff.
House Republican spokeswoman Jodi Boyne said most hiring and firing decisions are made by a personnel committee spearheaded by Rep. Joe Hoppe, R-Chaska. Hoppe told MPR News that he contacted legal counsel when Koch was first charged with a crime. Hoppe said the Legislature’s attorneys advised him to put Koch on administrative leave and not fire him.
“We try to make sure that we’re going to do things to protect the state, to protect the House and to protect the institution,” Hoppe said. “We’re not going to jump to doing things that might result in us being sued in any kind of wrongful termination suit.”
Hoppe pointed to a wrongful termination suit from former Senate staffer Michael Brodkorb against the Minnesota Senate. The Senate has spent $102,000 in taxpayer money on an outside attorney that is helping the Senate defend itself in the lawsuit.
Hoppe also said the standards between Rep. Gauthier and Koch are different. He said Gauthier admitted to his conduct and that elected officials “should be held to a higher standard.” Hoppe said Koch has not admitted to wrongdoing.
“If Rep. Gauthier wouldn’t have admitted what happened we probably would be in a different circumstance,” Hoppe said.
Hoppe said he’s not sure how Republicans will handle Koch’s employment until after the trial. Koch has worked for the House Republican Caucus since 1999 and also served as Republican Chair of the 4th Congressional District. He was also a delegate to the Republican National Convention in 2008.
Koch ran for the Ramsey County Board of Commissioners in 2010, the same time police investigators executed a search warrant on Koch’s apartment and seized two computers. Koch, entered a plea of not guilty. His pre-trial hearing is scheduled for Sept. 14.
House Republicans also say they’ve taken a hard line when it comes to misconduct. Zellers suspended the committee chairmanship of Rep. Tom Hackbarth, R-Cedar, after he was investigated for carrying a firearm in the parking lot of a Planned Parenthood in St. Paul in November of 2010. Hackbarth was not charged with a crime.
House Republicans, under then Minority Leader Marty Seifert, also forced Rep. Mark Olson out of the caucus after he was charged with two counts of domestic abuse in 2006. Olson was convicted of misdemeanor domestic assault for causing his wife fear of bodily harm, but was acquitted of intentionally trying to harm her.