In his first public statements since the resignation of a top aide, Gov. Josh Shapiro tried to reassure Pennsylvanians that there is a healthy, safe, professional working environment in his administration.
He spoke in Bethlehem at a press gathering to announce new state investments in recreation and conservation projects across the Commonwealth.
“Given the fact that this is a person, I can’t comment on any specifics,” said the former state Attorney General. “And that’s really designed to be able to protect all parties involved in in any manner.”
“Our administration is led by two women, strongly – my chief of staff (Dana Fritz) and our general counsel (Jennifer Selber). And we work every day to make sure that we have a healthy, safe, professional work environment for all of our employees. And I want everyone to know who works in the state government, or anyone observing state government, that should anyone feel that we’re not meeting those standards, that we have an independent, robust, professional process to allow people to come forward safely and have their concerns heard. That’s something that I’m committed to the leaders in my administration are committed to and that is something that we adhere to, in every case.”
Mike Vereb, Secretary of Legislative Affairs and a long-time confidant of the governor, resigned his post last week after allegations of sexual harassment surfaced. Vereb has been accused by a former staffer who left her post after just five weeks on the job back in March.
State Sen. Lisa Boscola (D-Lehigh/Northampton) also spoke in support of the administration. She, along with seven other female senators, met privately with Shapiro on Wednesday.
“As a female state senator, we were able to sit and meet with Governor Shapiro and his team yesterday,” said Boscola. “We came out of that very confident that he’s handling this and he’s right. He has two powerful women that know what they’re doing when they come to personnel issues. So I’m very confident he and his administration are handling this as best as they can.”
Senate President Pro Tempore Kim Ward (R-Westmoreland) was critical of the administration’s handling of the situation, calling the allegations, “appalling.”
“Despite this being a personnel matter, the Governor’s office has offered official comments and conflicting information on the issue. This not only raises concerns related to their workplace practices, but also whether this matter has influenced our current unfinished budget situation, and how taxpayer funds are supporting this issue,” Ward said.
“The alleged offender remained in his influential role until he tendered his resignation leaving the victim in an unsafe space, to fend for herself, with limited options. This is unacceptable.”
When asked for a response, Shapiro said “First of all, I just say consider the source when it comes to the president pro tem. We have an independent, robust process. That is one where any employee should feel comfortable coming forward, and that their voice will be heard.
“You know, from my time as Attorney General, one thing I learned is when … you have any allegations come forward, you owe it to a witness, you owe it to a complainant, you owe it to a victim to make sure that you have a confidential process. You have a rigorous process that’s grounded in integrity, to ensure that their voice can be heard and to ensure that appropriate outcomes are brought about and we are committed to doing that and do it in our administration.”
“There are legitimate questions about the handling of harassment allegations inside Governor Shapiro’s office,” said Michael Straw, the communications director for the Pennsylvania State Republican Campaign Committee. “Instead of taking the opportunity today to be transparent and answer a question on a serious topic, he attacked the credibility of the first female Senate President. Pennsylvanians deserve answers from Josh Shapiro.”