Department of Public Safety chief resigns; Branstad brings back Larry Noble

Governor Terry Branstad accepted Brian London’s resignation last night as head of the Iowa Department of Public Safety. This morning the governor announced that he is reappointing former State Senator Larry Noble to the position. Noble served as Department of Public Safety commissioner from January 2011 until June 2012.

Follow me after the jump for background on London’s short and rocky tenure.

When Noble announced his departure last summer, Branstad accepted his resignation “with regret.” He named longtime department staffer Steve Ponsetto as interim commissioner before choosing K. Brian London in September 2012. London had 30 years of law enforcement experience in many different roles, from state traffic officer in California to special agent for the Central Intelligence Agency and later the U.S. Secret Service, followed by a long tenure at the U.S. Customs Service and a few years as deputy chief for law enforcement in Florida’s Department of Financial Services.

Branstad was so thrilled with London that he offered a salary at the top of the allowable pay range, plus a “$16,110 recruitment bonus effective at the time of hire.” When questioned about circumventing the pay scale approved by the state legislature, Branstad’s spokesman Tim Albrecht argued that the compensation reflected London’s “extraordinary” skill set for a leadership position.

London made waves within a short time at the Department of Public Safety. When the Iowa Senate considered his confirmation this year, a number of employees voiced complaints about London’s leadership. These controversies slipped below my radar, because other Iowa Senate confirmation battles were more contentious during this year’s legislative session. In an unusual move, Senate State Government Committee Chair Jeff Danielson moved London’s nomination to the Senate floor but voted against confirming him, along with seven other Iowa Senate Democrats (Matt McCoy, Tod Bowman, Joe Bolkcom, Jack Hatch, Bill Dotzler, Bob Dvorsky, and Brian Schoenjahn). Addressing his Senate colleages,

[Danielson] said morale of public safety employees has plunged under London’s leadership, adding that the commissioner had made many changes within the agency’s structure in a short period of time. While the personnel changes may have followed the letter of law within the civil service system,  they weren’t necessarily within the spirit of the system, he added.

“It is unusual for the troops to be as vocal as they have been” in voicing their complaints about London to state lawmakers, Danielson said. “It would be my hope forward that he takes this to heart.”

Danielson wasn’t the only senator to hear complaints about London.

Several senators have since told the Register that before the vote, they were contacted by law enforcement officials in Iowa and elsewhere who wanted to share concerns about London – that he allegedly was an extreme micromanager, that he pitted employees against each other, that his hubris in a world of testosterone and egos had created a toxic environment that threatened to drive out veteran law enforcement officers.

Former state Sen. Tom Hancock, D-Epworth, who was chairman of the committee that oversees spending by the Iowa Department of Public Safety until he chose not to seek re-election last fall, said public safety workers told him London didn’t tolerate being contradicted.

“Word got out there that your job may be in jeopardy if you voice your opinion about anything,” Hancock said today.

In March, when it appeared there weren’t enough votes in the Senate to confirm London, members of Branstad’s administration, including  Chief of Staff Jeff Boeyink, invested political capital to ensure his approval, lawmakers and lobbyists told the Register.

Less than a month after London was confirmed, a state trooper reported a black SUV doing a “hard 90” on a state highway. That incident set in motion a public scandal that led to last night’s resignation.

Lately, London has been in the news in connection with a controversial 84 mph speeding incident in April that involved the governor’s state patrol driver. London fired Larry Hedlund, a 25-year veteran of the Department of Public Safety, shortly after Hedlund wrote a complaint to his bosses objecting to the fact that troopers declined to stop the SUV once they realized it carried Branstad.

State lawmakers said complaints about London, 60, have been mounting for months from employees within the public safety agency who said London had a flawed management style that was leading to dysfunction.

One of the more bizarre reports to emerge about London was his statement during a training session that Filipinos were difficult to polygraph accurately. He later apologized to the Philippine ambassador to Washington, while claiming his comments had been taken out of context.

Speaking to KWWL in Waterloo and the Des Moines Register, Danielson praised Branstad’s apparent decision to remove London and again commented on low morale within the Department of Public Safety. On his Facebook page, Danielson expressed hope that “lessons learned” would lead to a stronger department. He noted in that comment thread, “The speeding incident got the most attention, but this [problems with London’s leadership] started way before that.”

London is still subject to a lawsuit filed by fired DPS Agent Larry Hedlund. Click through to watch a video of Hedlund discussing problems at the agency and how some people allegedly confuse “leadership” with “dictatorship.”

Former Iowa Supreme Court Chief Justice Louis Lavorato determined that the governor’s office was not directly involved in sacking Hedlund, but as Michael Gartner noted in Cityview last week, Lavorato did not answer the question of whether Hedlund was fired in retaliation for reporting the speeding incident.

This morning’s press release from the governor’s office does not mention any reasons for London’s departure, focusing on the good news:

Branstad appoints Larry Noble as head of the Iowa Department of Public Safety

September 4, 2013

(DES MOINES) – Gov. Terry E. Branstad today named Larry Noble as head of the Iowa Department of Public Safety following the resignation of Brian London.

“I am pleased to bring Larry Noble back to serve as Public Safety Commissioner,” said Branstad. “Larry has 30 years of experience in the Iowa Department of Public Safety, and served four years in the Iowa Senate, giving him the experience and leadership ability to restore stability and predictability within this very important department of state government.

“I appreciate Larry’s willingness to come back and serve Iowans in this important role. Larry Noble has a reputation for integrity and humility, which is important as we focus on the department’s future. I have chosen Larry because he has a wealth of experience in the Iowa Department of Public Safety, and has demonstrated the ability to lead with integrity.

“Larry Noble has the respect of the people within the department, and he will be a strong leader as we move forward.”

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