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Senators seek detail of secret settlements

Published: Thursday, March 27, 2014 11:13 a.m. CDT

DES MOINES (AP) — Senate Democrats and at least one Republican pushed Wednesday for Gov. Terry Branstad’s administration to explain why more than 320 state workers have been fired since he took office in 2011.

The lawmakers also said they wanted details about the more than $400,000 given to workers who agreed to keep quiet about their firings.

Branstad signed an executive order Monday prohibiting state agencies from entering confidential settlement agreements. He said he knew nothing about the agreements, which were first reported in the Des Moines Register earlier this month, and called them ill-advised and unacceptable.

Branstad also released past agreements on a state website that revealed 321 settlements had been reached in state employee matters since he returned to the governor’s office in January 2011. Of those, 24 contained confidentiality provisions, and 10 had lump-sum agreements totaling more than $427,000. Individual agreements ranged from $4,000 to $110,000.

Sen. Robert Hogg, D-Cedar Rapids, questioned where state agencies found the money.

“The Legislature should not put up with an administration or administrators that don’t tell us about these things,” he said. “When is the Branstad administration going to come clean with what happened, when did they know it and why didn’t they tell us about it?”

He said it’s the duty of the Legislature to scrutinize state spending. Keeping secrets gets government in trouble, he said, adding that cover-ups are always worse than divulging the facts.

Sen. Matt McCoy, of Des Moines, speculated that some fired workers’ jobs may have been replaced by contractors that cost the state even more.

“The big ugly truth will come out. We’ll learn we have a lot of stink going on around this issue. We’re going to open up the doors and let it all out,” he said.

Branstad said there was some outsourcing of work to provide better efficiencies and more effective oversight at the Department of Administrative Services, which is run by Mike Carroll. The governor said Monday that he talked with Carroll, who acknowledged mistakes were made in making payments to workers who agreed to sign confidentiality agreements.

Branstad’s executive order makes that practice unlawful, and he said “heads would roll” if it happened again.

McCoy said Carroll was called to appear before the Senate Government Oversight Committee on Thursday but put off lawmakers until next week.

“There’s nothing more important right now for the DAS director except showing up before the oversight committee and subjecting himself and the department for the scrutiny of this practice,” McCoy said. “Frankly, some of us believe he shouldn’t be on the payroll anymore.”

DAS’ spokesman did not immediately respond to a message.

Branstad said many of the Democratic lawmakers’ comments were inaccurate and politically motivated.

“Those are just false and political accusations that are not true,” he said in an interview.

However, Republican Sen. Sandra Greiner, of Keota, said the Legislature shouldn’t adjourn until it’s clear why workers were fired.

“The people of Iowa and legislators also deserve to know exactly why those people were asked to leave,” she said. “That’s the piece that nobody is talking about. What were the charges? Why were those people asked to leave? I, for one, am not going home until I find out.”

Branstad said many of the workers were laid off as his administration worked to “clean up a big financial mess” inherited when he took office on a mandate from voters to reduce the size and cost of government.

“We asked the department heads to do that, and today we’re about 6 percent fewer employees than we had when I took office,” he said. “It’s not easy when you have to make tough decisions and reorganize and reduce the size of government but I’m really proud of the different departments.”

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