I don’t expect Governor Terry Branstad to replace many state agency leaders going into his sixth term, but before too long he will need to find a new head of Iowa Workforce Development. Although he will probably nominate Teresa Wahlert for that post again, the Iowa Senate will likely reject her confirmation. Here’s why:
1. Wahlert needs at least ten Democrats to join the 24 incoming Iowa Senate Republicans in order to be confirmed. She was confirmed in 2011 with only two votes to spare; two of the twelve Democratic senators who backed her then no longer serve in the Iowa legislature, and several who remain in the Senate have been critical of various Branstad administration policies implemented by Wahlert.
2. Wahlert presided over dismantling staffed Iowa Workforce Development field offices in dozens of communities, following a Branstad line-item veto that was eventually struck down by a unanimous Iowa Supreme Court.
3. Wahlert is a defendant in a lawsuit filed by former Iowa Workers’ Compensation Commissioner Chris Godfrey. Depositions are happening soon in that case, following an Iowa Supreme Court ruling earlier this year.
4. Wahlert is also a defendant in a lawsuit filed by Joseph Walsh, the former Chief Administrative Law Judge for Iowa Workforce Development. Among other things, Walsh alleges that Wahlert “interfere[d] with the administrative judicial process in order to favor employers,” attempted “to illegally strip [Walsh] of his merit protection,” and eventually retaliated by removing him in “a political reorganization disguised as a budget layoff.”
5. Just this week, an arbitrator ruled that Wahlert “overstepped her bounds when she promoted a judge who had been demoted after complaints that she created a hostile work environment.” After the jump I’ve posted excerpts from David Pitt’s report for the Associated Press.
No wonder State Senator Janet Petersen has predicted that Wahlert would face a tough confirmation process if re-appointed by Branstad. He could save everyone a lot of time by choosing new leadership for Iowa Workforce Development.
From David Pitt’s November 11 report for the Associated Press, “Workforce director’s decision reversed”:
The arbitrator’s decision settles a dispute between the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, the union that represents state workers, and Iowa Workforce Development. It’s also another setback for Wahlert, the head of the agency that oversees benefits for unemployed workers and job training programs.
The union filed a grievance in May 2013 on behalf of Marty Alexander, a state employee representing a group of Iowa Workforce Development clerical workers. His grievance alleged that Teresa Hillary, an administrative law judge who heard unemployment cases, intimidated and harassed staff, creating a hostile work environment. […]
In June 2013, Joe Walsh, who was the top administrative law judge at the agency, settled the grievance by demoting Hillary for at least a year to a role in which she could not manage other staffers.
Soon after his decision, Walsh was laid off by Wahlert, who then appointed Hillary and a few other administrative law judges as lead workers, supervisory positions with additional pay. So the union filed another grievance, claiming Hillary’s promotion violated Walsh’s order. It was denied by the state, and the union sought arbitration.
Arbitrator Sharon Dendurent, in a ruling filed Friday and obtained by the Associated Press, said Hillary should not have been given the management job last year and ordered her demoted to her previous job for one year.
Dendurent concluded that the initial grievance was settled properly by Walsh and that Wahlert did not have the authority to reverse it.