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More sunshine, less political hay

Published: Monday, April 14, 2014 11:16 a.m. CDT • Updated: Tuesday, April 15, 2014 7:36 p.m. CDT

In recent weeks the House and Senate Government Oversight Committees have been working overtime to discover the reasons behind the dismissals of certain state employees and the motive behind payments made for confidential settlements. 

This issue was brought to light after a recent media article was published, alleging certain state employees had been fired for politically partisan reasons.

The issue was even further confounded when the Democrat-controlled Senate Government Oversight Committee scheduled investigative hearings apart from the Republican-controlled House Government Oversight Committee claiming that Republicans had no interest in shining sunlight on the Branstad Administration. 

This caught the House off-guard, as it is typical for the House and Senate Government Oversight Committees to hold joint meetings when hearing testimony from various departments and agencies. 

On April 3, when the House and Senate Government Oversight Committees finally met jointly, we heard testimony from then-Director of Department of Administrative Services (DAS), Mike Carroll; DAS General Services Enterprise Chief Operating Officer, Doug Woodley, and DAS Chief Resource Maximization Officer, Paul Carlson. 

Of the testimony given by Mr. Carroll, the following information was relayed:

• The money paid out was strictly for settling specific grievances.  There was no payment for silence (aka “hush money”).

• According to the Attorney General’s office, there was no violation of state law with these payments.

• Governor Branstad knew nothing about the payments prior to the news article as there would be no reason for him to know the specifics of every settlement.

• Once the Governor learned of these payments, he expressed his disappointment as the practice does not lend itself to his wishes for openness and transparency in state government.

• Mr. Carroll took full responsibility for being out of compliance with the Governor’s wishes and stated that he was merely following a systemic practice that had been utilized by previous administrations.

• There is no such thing as a “black list” (or “do-not-hire” list) regarding the hiring practices of state government. 

Unfortunately, just a few days after this testimony, it was later discovered that Mr. Carroll’s statements regarding state employees being paid an additional amount in exchange for confidentiality provisions were not accurate. Once the Governor received this new information and was able to verify it with documentation, he took immediate action by terminating Mike Carroll as DAS Director.

I applaud the Governor’s swift action once he was able to ascertain the facts and I think this is further evidence of his commitment to promoting more openness and transparency in state government.

Furthermore, in the wake of the initial controversy, Governor Branstad issued Executive Order 85 which not only provides openness by ending the practice of confidential agreements in personnel settlements and ensures accountability by requiring any personnel settlement agreement to be reviewed by the Attorney General’s Office before it is entered into, but also provides transparency by posting every final personnel settlement agreement to the Department of Administrative Services website.

The House Government Oversight Committee followed suit by drafting a bill, House File 2462, and moving it to the House Floor where it passed 63-35.  HF 2462 would codify the essence of the Governor’s executive order, so that it could not be rescinded by a future administration.

While the motivations behind exposing this issue may have been politically charged, the positive result for every Iowan is that this issue is being addressed in a manner that nets even more openness and transparency in state government. 

I am all for more sunshine in state government.  Let’s just make sure that the “sunshine” is not selective and only used for making political “hay”.

Until next time, God bless!

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