Weekend open thread: ISU cronyism and favoritism edition

Insider dealing at the University of Iowa has drawn intense scrutiny since President Bruce Harreld’s hiring last year. This week, several news reports cast an unflattering light on the culture President Steven Leath is fostering at Iowa State University.

The July 9 Des Moines Register carried a front-page story by Lee Rood on Leath’s recent purchase of land from one of the companies controlled by Iowa Board of Regents President Bruce Rastetter. After trying to weasel out of answering questions regarding what he called his "personal life," Leath insisted he got no "special deal" on the land. However, the arrangement appears highly irregular, as discussed below following excerpts from Rood’s article.

Two recent stories by Vanessa Miller for the Cedar Rapids Gazette raised further questions about what kind of operation Leath is running. Click through to read about the hiring of former Republican lawmaker Jim Kurtenbach for a high-paying job that was never advertised, as well as Kurtenbach’s restructuring of ISU’s information technology services unit, which involved eliminating 23 positions and paying 19 people not to work since May 25. Excerpts from those stories are below as well.

This is an open thread: all topics welcome.

P.S.- Speaking of cozy Republican networks, Ryan Foley reported for the Associated Press on Friday that the University of Iowa "is retaining a social media startup company with Republican Party ties that benefited from earlier no-bid contracts." Wholecrowd is run by Jim Anderson, who served as Iowa GOP executive director during part of the time the University of Iowa’s current Vice President for External Relations Peter Matthes was a staffer for the GOP state Senate caucus. Under no-bid contracts Matthes signed with former Iowa GOP state party chair Matt Strawn’s company, Wholecrowd did the same kind of "digital advocacy" work as a subcontractor. The university’s new contract, signed directly with Wholecrowd after a competitive bidding process, seems to have cut Strawn out as the middleman.

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Cedar Rapids Gazette lets reporters grab other people's scoops without attribution

Attribution such as "first reported by" is an appropriate way for journalists to acknowledge another media outlet’s role in breaking news. The Center for Investigative Reporting’s Ethics Guide states,

Any information taken from other published or broadcast sources should receive credit within the body of the story. Reporters and editors also should be aware of previously published/broadcast work on the same subject and give those news organizations credit if they have broken new ground or published exclusive material before any others.

One of Iowa’s leading newspapers doesn’t hold its reporters to the same standard.

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Five troubling aspects of the University of Iowa's no-bid contracts with Matt Strawn

As if we haven’t heard enough lately about backroom dealings involving the University of Iowa, Ryan Foley reported yesterday for the Associated Press,

The University of Iowa has quietly awarded several no-bid contracts totaling $321,900 to a prominent GOP consultant for polling and social media services often delivered through subcontractors, a review by The Associated Press discovered.

Critics say the contracts with former Iowa Republican Party chairman Matt Strawn’s namesake company — uncovered through a public records request — look like a sweetheart deal among Republican insiders and a potential waste of money.

That’s putting it mildly.

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13 ways a top Branstad administration lawyer didn't comply with state policies

The Iowa Department of Administrative Services presents itself as "an organization of excellence, providing services and support to meet our stakeholder agencies’ needs and ever mindful of good stewardship in resource utilization." Among other responsibilities, DAS "handles personnel matters for all of state government."

Yet the agency’s former top attorney Ryan Lamb didn’t comply with various personnel rules during the nearly three years he worked for state government, State Auditor Mary Mosiman revealed yesterday in a detailed report (pdf). The headline news from the audit: Lamb was "overpaid" and "unqualified" for his job. Ryan Foley reported for the Associated Press,

A key lawyer in Gov. Terry Branstad’s administration wasn’t qualified for his position and was paid $22,600 that he shouldn’t have received while on military leave, according to a report released Thursday.

Department of Administrative Services chief legal counsel Ryan Lamb also failed to record vacation days and was promoted and given major raises even though he didn’t have a resume on file […].

That sounds bad. But wait! There’s more.

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More signs Bruce Harreld had inside track for University of Iowa presidency

As if the "fix was in" camp needed any more ammunition: weeks before the nine members of the Iowa Board of Regents interviewed finalists to lead the University of Iowa, Board President Bruce Rastetter arranged for Bruce Harreld to meet with four other regents at the Ames office of Summit Agricultural Group. Rastetter is the CEO of that company. Earlier in July, he and three search committee members had met Harreld for lunch in Iowa City after Harreld spoke to senior staff at the University of Iowa Hospitals & Clinics, at the invitation of the search committee chair.

Follow me after the jump for more on today’s explosive revelations, as well as yesterday’s decision by a University of Iowa’s faculty group to censure Harreld “for his failure of professional ethics.”  

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Weekend open thread: Brazen acts

What’s on your mind this weekend, Bleeding Heartland readers? This is an open thread: all topics welcome.

After the jump I’ve enclosed clips describing some brazen behavior. Many Iowans think of corruption in public procurement as a problem for other people, like our neighbors in Illinois. But a former Iowa Department of Public Safety employee’s involvement in state contracts awarded to Smith & Wesson raises red flags. I was surprised to learn on Friday that no ethics case will be pursued regarding the possible conflict of interest.

Todd Dorman’s latest column for the Cedar Rapids Gazette highlights comments by “America’s Longest Serving Ironist” (Governor Terry Branstad) about Syrian refugees possibly being resettled in Iowa. Dorman noted that “The master of blindside edicts” now wants “transparency” from the federal government.

His piece reminded me of Branstad’s hypocritical (or non-self-aware, if we’re being charitable) remarks to Clare McCarthy for her feature about refugees for IowaWatch.org. Speaking to McCarthy on July 7, the governor described how refugees from Burma need mentors from within their community to help them adjust to life in Iowa—perhaps forgetting that only days before, he had vetoed funding for a pilot program to train “leaders from the refugee community to help other refugees work through challenges.”

When it comes to political leaders shamelessly doing whatever they want, then failing to take responsibility, Branstad’s got nothing on Russian President Vladimir Putin. Mr. desmoinesdem directed my attention to a classic anecdote about Putin pocketing a Superbowl ring belonging to New England Patriots owner Robert Kraft. Karen Dawisha related the story in her 2014 book Putin’s Kleptocracy: Who Owns Russia? Scroll to the end of this post to read the tale.

UPDATE: A reader commented that former State Representative Renee Schulte also committed a brazen act by shifting gears in a matter of days from being a contractor for the Iowa Department of Human Services to a consultant for a company bidding on contracts to manage Medicaid.

SECOND UPDATE: Not Iowa-specific, but certainly brazen in an “evil genius” way: a “a start-up run by a former hedge fund manager” bought the rights to a life-saving drug last month and “immediately raised the price to $750 a tablet from $13.50, bringing the annual cost of treatment for some patients to hundreds of thousands of dollars,” Andrew Pollack reported for the New York Times.  

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