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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"Party school" findings shed new light on University of Iowa's secrecy on polling

Since November, the University of Iowa has refused to release documents related to annual statewide polls measuring Iowans’ attitudes about the university over the last three years. Officials have cited a provision in Iowa Code allowing “Reports to governmental agencies” to remain confidential if their release “would give advantage to competitors and serve no public purpose.” But Iowa Freedom of Information Council Executive Director Randy Evans has referenced decisions by the Iowa Supreme Court and lower courts, which indicate that the exemption “was not designed to cover documents produced for the government at public expense.”

I have assumed the university was concealing documents related to the polling because the work was among several projects awarded through no-bid contracts to a company controlled by former Republican Party of Iowa Chair Matt Strawn. Peter Matthes, the university vice president who supervised those contracts, had prior connections to Strawn through Iowa Republican circles. Matthes also was involved in hiring new University of Iowa President Bruce Harreld, both as a member of the presidential search committee and as a participant in one of Harreld’s secret meetings with key decision-makers.

An exclusive report by Ryan Foley for the Associated Press yesterday pointed to a more straightforward reason to keep the poll findings secret: Iowa’s image as a “party school” had hurt its reputation “as a serious academic institution.”

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Bruce Harreld ignores request for documents on U of I opinion poll, Matt Strawn's work

After a contentious recent e-mail exchange with a prominent alumnus, University of Iowa President Bruce Harreld vowed that he will “continue to respond to his critics via email,” because “I value direct and candid feedback from our students, faculty, staff, and alumni and if I stop responding I won’t be the kind of president this institution needs and deserves.”

That sentiment doesn’t apply to all critics, though. Iowa Freedom of Information Council Executive Director Randy Evans had received no reply from Harreld more than two weeks after urging him to release documents related to a statewide opinion poll and other work the University of Iowa awarded through no-bid contracts to a company owned by former Iowa GOP Chair Matt Strawn.

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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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Branstad's chief of staff Jeff Boeyink to step down

Governor Terry Branstad will be shopping for a new chief of staff for the first time since the 1990s. Jeff Boeyink announced today that he is stepping down for an unspecified private sector job, effective September 6. After many years with the conservative advocacy group Iowans for Tax Relief, Boeyink briefly served as executive director of the Republican Party of Iowa before leaving to manage Branstad’s 2010 gubernatorial campaign. After the 2010 election, Boeyink co-chaired the governor’s transition team, and he has served as chief of staff ever since.

I’ve posted the press release from the governor’s office after the jump. Note the careful mention of Branstad’s “potential” re-election bid, and the conspicuous effort to mention Lieutenant Governor Kim Reynolds’ name and title as often as possible. The governor’s re-election campaign has engaged in similar branding of the Branstad-Reynolds “team,” fueling rumors in some circles that Reynolds will become the last-minute gubernatorial candidate next spring.

The Des Moines Register’s Jennifer Jacobs listed some possible successors to Boeyink. The governor’s legal counsel Brenna Findley used to serve as Representative Steve King’s chief of staff before she ran for Iowa attorney general in 2010. David Roederer has long been in Branstad’s inner circle and now heads the Iowa Department of Management. Former Iowa GOP staffer Chad Olsen is currently chief of staff for Secretary of State Matt Schultz. Michael Bousselot has been advising Branstad on health care and other issues. Sara Craig was state director of Mitt Romney’s presidential campaign in Iowa before the 2012 caucuses. Matt Hinch has held many political jobs and is now senior vice president of government relations and public policy for the Greater Des Moines Partnership. I can’t imagine that Doug Gross would want to go back to the job he held nearly 30 years ago. Former Iowa GOP Chair Matt Strawn is busy with his new consulting and lobbying firm.

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