A former employee of Delegate Karen Lewis Young made public this week an ethics complaint against the first-term state representative.
Former Legislative Director April Clemons asserted in a now-public Facebook post that Lewis Young instructed staff to do campaign work during the 2018 General Assembly session and exhibited abusive behavior, which created a “toxic and hostile work environment.”
Lewis Young, a Democrat representing District 3A in Frederick County, denies the allegations.
Clemons, 36, worked for Lewis Young between November 2017 and mid-March 2018. She reported her complaint to the Maryland Department of Legislative Services on Tuesday and announced it on Facebook the same day under the pseudonym “April Lemons,” which she uses to protect herself and family from online threats, she said.
“She had been warned. It’s just some people don’t want to hear the truth,” Clemons said in a phone interview with The Frederick News-Post on Friday.
Clemons said she didn’t connect her decision to report Lewis Young on Tuesday with the start of early voting on Thursday or the Nov. 6 election.
“There was this really big gap because I had to be sure I could secure employment. ... Honestly, I didn’t put the two together,” said Clemons, a mother of four from Frederick.
Clemons said she reported Lewis Young to the Department of Legislative Services. But because all matters before the ethics committee are confidential under General Provision 5517, the office will not confirm or deny the existence of any complaints, said Ethics Counsel Dea Daley.
Lewis Young said on Friday she was not notified by the Department of Legislative Services of any complaints, but the timing of the complaint was suspicious — seven months after Clemons resigned and just a few days before the beginning of early voting.
“I have received dozens of calls from people rushing to my support who find the timing inordinately consequential,” Lewis Young said.
Clemons alleges that during her four-month employment in Lewis Young’s office, she and others were instructed to work on Lewis Young’s campaign website, arrange advertisements and answer campaign questionnaires. One such questionnaire was sent to the delegate by the League of Women Voters, which Lewis Young instructed the staff’s intern and volunteer to fill out, Clemons alleged.
Lewis Young said that did not happen.
“I specifically remember that one because you’re only allowed so many words, so I played with the words to see how much substance I can get out of them,” said Lewis Young.
An email shows the League of Women Voters of Frederick County sent the questionnaire on March 12. Clemons resigned two days later, on March 14, Lewis Young said.
Benjamin Reese, 22, was Lewis Young’s intern during the 2018 session and was hired as her legislative director after he graduated from Hood College this past spring.
He said on Friday that he did not remember completing questionnaires on Lewis Young’s behalf, but he did recall her commenting that she was up late, or would be up late, completing them. Reese’s responsibilities focused on making the delegate’s schedule and doing research on legislation.
He said he also did not work on her campaign until after the completion of his internship.
Lewis Young said she has three rules for any staff member who wants to volunteer for her campaign:
- Not in the office.
- Not on state time.
- Not on state equipment.
She acknowledged that Clemons worked “minimally” for her campaign on a volunteer basis. She said she could only remember asking her to print a finance report at her home one weekend.
But at least one other former staff member is concerned there is a pattern of abuse by Lewis Young. Robert Van Rens, 44, took over Clemons’ role after she quit in mid-March. Van Rens moved from the office of Lewis-Young’s husband, Sen. Ron Young (D-District 3), to Lewis Young’s office in the middle of the legislative session.
“It was fraught with difficulty,” Van Rens said. “She regularly would decide to do something or specify, ‘I want you to go do this thing,’ and two days later ask, ‘Why did you do this?’”
Both also said Lewis Young would text them late on weekends and be “furious” when tasks hadn’t been completed.
Originally, Van Rens took over Clemons’ role in Young’s office in November 2017 when she moved to Lewis Young’s office. Their children were also friends and they carpooled while Clemons worked for Lewis Young, he said.
Van Rens is considering filing his own ethics complaint against Lewis Young, who he alleges kept him on staff four weeks longer than was contractually agreed upon when he moved to her office. He has since returned to Sen. Young’s office.
He has also already made himself available to the Department of Legislative Services in support of Clemons’ complaint.
Lewis Young is running for one of two seats in District 3A against Democrat Delegate Carol Krimm, Republican James Dvorak, Republican Mike Bowersox and Libertarian Jeremy Harbaugh. There are no term limits, and the annual salary for a delegate is $50,330.
“I’m confident that the voters will judge me on my record and not an eleventh-hour attack from my opponent,” Lewis Young said.