More fallout from leadership change at Iowa Department of Public Safety

Elected officials in both parties welcomed Governor Terry Branstad’s decision this week to bring back Larry Noble as Iowa Department of Public Safety commissioner, but some important questions about Brian London’s disastrous tenure have yet to be answered.

In a rambling letter to DPS staffers, outgoing commissioner London indicated that he was leaving for “personal reasons.” Let’s dispense with that fantasy right away. Noble told reporters this morning that the governor asked him about returning to his old job about a week ago–before the September 3 meeting at which Branstad accepted London’s resignation.

The governor’s official statement on new leadership at the department said nothing about London. Speaking to the press on September 4,

Branstad offered no words of praise for London in front of reporters Wednesday, saying London didn’t fully understand the culture of public safety in Iowa, and that “there were a lot of people that just didn’t really feel comfortable” with his leadership style.

The governor owes Iowans a lot more explanation than that. Why did he offer London a “recruitment bonus” to push his total annual compensation more than $16,000 above the upper limit defined by state law? I disagree with ignoring mandatory salary caps for any reason, but it’s even worse that Branstad offered the extra money up front rather than as a bonus for good performance on the job.

Why did the governor and his Chief of Staff Jeff Boeyink lean on state senators to confirm London, despite an unusual number of complaints from law enforcement officials? Alarm bells were ringing well before the speeding incident that brought problems at the department to the public’s attention this summer.

Two of the Democratic candidates for governor called on Branstad to explain in greater detail why London resigned.

Representative Tyler Olson of Cedar Rapids, a Democrat who announced he was running for governor in June, says Branstad’s “lack of oversight” has put Iowans in “jeopardy.”

“Director London’s departure is part of a pattern of mismanagement at government agencies – the Iowa Veterans Home, the Iowa Juvenile Home, now the Iowa Department of Public Safety – where the public places a lot of trust to protect especially vulnerable Iowans,” Olson says. […]

“I think there’s some real questions about the governor’s inability to provide effective oversight of agencies that are tasked with protecting vulnerable Iowans,” Olson says. “Whether it’s at the Veterans Home or the Juvenile Home, there’s just a lack of attention by the governor to these important agencies.”

Branstad recently appointed a task force to recommend changes at the Juvenile Home after revelations that some teenage girls in the facility were kept in isolation cells for months at a time. Last spring Branstad asked a retired Iowa National Guard brigadier general to step into a top job at the Iowa Veterans Home after citizens complained to legislators about how the home’s commandant was running the facility.

State Senator Jack Hatch also wants to know why Branstad backed London for so long, and what changed to make him lose confidence in London’s ability to run the agency? One of eight Iowa Senate Democrats to vote against confirming London, Hatch also pointed out that London’s personnel decisions may end up costing Iowa taxpayers hundreds of thousands of dollars in legal fees.

Meanwhile, State Senator Jeff Danielson, one of the most vocal critics of London in recent months, told the Des Moines Register yesterday that the department veteran Larry Hedlund should get his job back “immediately.”

“In my view he is an Iowan that other Iowans should look up to,” Danielson said of Hedlund. […]

Bringing Hedlund back would do much to build trust among troopers and other DPS employees, Danielson said.

“He didn’t deserve to be fired, based on the evidence,” he said. “I believe the governor has an opportunity to really send a clear message that what has gone on in the last 10 months is going to stop and that people like Mr. Hedlund are going to be asked to rebuild the department.”

Danielson said he had not read the 500-page report the department compiled to justify Hedlund’s termination, but believed he had been fired for raising questions and offering constructive criticism of the department’s management under London.

“I think Larry Hedlund ought to be a part of rebuilding the department,” he said. “He was willing to speak truth to power.”

I haven’t read the 500-page report on Hedlund either, but some of the points state officials highlighted to journalists earlier this summer sounded like jokes. You don’t end a 25-year career in law enforcement over infractions like allegedly being disrespectful and insubordinate during a conference call.

Hedlund has filed a wrongful termination lawsuit. His attorney told the Des Moines Register that his client would “love” to return to the job, but “We’d just have to see what the terms of an offer of reinstatement would look like.”

Noble said at today’s press conference,

“Larry Hedlund deserves and is entitled to due process, and he’s in that process now, so I’m not going to speak about it.”

Noble declined to say whether officers who saw the governor’s speeding SUV should have pulled it over and ticketed the trooper driving it. But he said it will be clear that no staff members, including the troopers who drive the governor, should speed without cause. “It is expected of every officer in this department to obey the law.”

UPDATE: Hilarious.

The former public safety commissioner who resigned Tuesday amid controversy lifted large passages of his resignation letters to Iowa and Florida from a 1999 speech by a retiring Navy captain.

Brian London, who served as head of the Iowa Department of Public Safety for 11 months, said he used the passages from Capt. John Allen Williams’s retirement speech because the Naval officer articulated how London felt upon leaving his last two jobs.

“I saw that and liked what he said,” London told The Gazette Thursday. “He said heartfelt stuff. Some of it is his, some of it is mine.”

London said he did not know the resignation letter was a public document. He intended it just for his DPS colleagues.

Click through to read Williams’ speech and both of London’s resignation letters, with plagiarized passages highlighted.

LATE UPDATE: London sees himself as the victim.

London, who resigned as commissioner last Tuesday amid ongoing controversy and complaints about poor morale, said he does not think he will ever work again.

“Iowa has destroyed me,” said London, 60, while sitting at his dining room table in West Des Moines. “People think I’m a racist, bigot, tyrant horrible manager. What hurts me the most is that Iowa has never given me a chance.” […]

“When I come into the state, all of a sudden I’m being barraged with this stuff, ‘you’re getting bonuses, you’re an outsider’,” London said.

What people don’t know, London said Friday, is that he refused state medical benefits, valued at about $12,000, to make up for the bonus. […]

London developed a reorganization plan with the help of Director of Administrative Services Dave Heuton and Executive Director Steve Ponsetto. The changes involved replacing the leader of the Iowa State Patrol and splitting up leadership duties of the DCI.

“I told him it was confidential,” London said of Heuton. “Unfortunately, Dave decided to talk with all of the people in the department.”

The leak caused London to reorganize sooner than he wanted, within weeks of taking over at DPS. London decided to fire Heuton, who had been with DPS for 17 years.

Heuton, who now works for the Legislative Services Agency, admitted he shouldn’t have told colleagues about the reorganization, but when they asked him direct questions about their jobs, Heuton felt they deserved answers.

“I don’t hold hard feelings toward Mr. London about it,” Heuton said. He said he thinks London might have succeeded in executing the plan if he had understood DPS better. “He didn’t know the people. He didn’t know the dynamics.”

Branstad told reporters London had plenty of chances.

“Well, actually he had offered to resign back in August,” Branstad told reporters today during a telephone conference call. “I said I wanted to wait before making a decision on that.” […]

“I think we gave him plenty of chances,” Branstad said, “and, in fact, there were a lot of people that said we should have gotten rid of him sooner.”

Branstad told reporters this morning he prefers to “look ahead” and he’s chosen the “right guy” to step in and lead the agency. Branstad asked Larry Noble, who retired last summer as the state’s public safety commissioner, to return to the job last Wednesday morning.

“Brian London has a great resume,” Branstad said. “…There’s a lot of turmoil and a lot of problems in that department that I think Larry Noble is already addressing in a very effective way.”

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