Branstad replacing Teresa Wahlert as Iowa Workforce Development director

Sidestepping what looked like an unwinnable battle with Iowa Senate Democrats, Governor Terry Branstad announced in a press release today that Teresa Wahlert will retire as head of Iowa Workforce Development. Apparently Wahlert informed Branstad on January 9 that she would step down, effective today. Iowa Civil Rights Commission Executive Director Beth Townsend will take over as acting director of Iowa Workforce Development. After the jump I’ve posted background on Townsend as well as today’s press release about Wahlert’s retirement.

Wahlert’s tenure was rocky from the start, as she only barely was confirmed to lead the agency in 2011. Iowa Senate Democrats objected to the planned closure of staffed Iowa Workforce Development offices all over the state, a policy that Wahlert later carried out despite lawmakers’ efforts to keep the offices open. (The Iowa Supreme Court eventually ruled unanimously that Branstad acted improperly when he struck language about the field offices without vetoing the money allocated to fund them, but the offices were never reopened.)

Wahlert’s conduct is also mixed up in two lawsuits filed by former senior state employees. As if that weren’t enough, an arbitrator ruled in November that Wahlert “overstepped her bounds when she promoted a judge who had been demoted after complaints that she created a hostile work environment.” For those reasons, she certainly would not have received the 34 yes votes she needed in the Iowa Senate, had Branstad re-appointed her to her current job. Today’s official press release does not acknowledge any of the controversies surrounding Wahlert’s work. Instead, the governor and Lieutenant Governor Kim Reynolds praised her leadership on worker training and job creation.

Final note: words attributed to Reynolds today greatly exaggerate the number of jobs created during Wahlert’s years in state government. No matter how many times real economists dismantle this zombie lie, the Branstad administration is hell-bent on counting only gross jobs created (a “fake” number), not net jobs created (which accounts for job losses as well). Townsend could do all Iowans a service by getting her new subordinates out of the fuzzy math business. As Mike Owen of the Iowa Policy Project argued here, the “political tainting” of Iowa Workforce Development is unacceptable: “IWD should be trying to determine and illustrate the actual job picture facing our state, so policy makers can make decisions in that light.”  

Governor Branstad press release, January 11, 2015:

Gov. Branstad and Lt. Gov. Reynolds announce retirement of IWD director Teresa Wahlert

(DES MOINES) – Gov. Terry E. Branstad and Lt. Gov. Kim Reynolds today announced the retirement of Iowa Workforce Development (IWD) Director Teresa Wahlert. Wahlert formally notified the governor late Friday that she would retire effective today, Sunday, Jan. 11, 2015.

“I wish to thank Teresa Wahlert for her work to help lead initiatives like Skilled Iowa, which trains workers with the skills needed to fill the high-paying careers available across Iowa, Home Base Iowa and the National Career Readiness Certificate,” said Branstad. “Lieutenant Governor Reynolds and I wish her all the best as she begins her retirement.”

“Director Wahlert’s energy and passion to serve the people of Iowa was evident in her dedication to ensuring that Iowa workers had access to programs that would assist them in filling the new, highly-skilled careers coming to Iowa,” said Reynolds. “Under her direction, Iowa Workforce Development was a key partner as 168,700 jobs were created in the past 4 years.”

Branstad appointed Beth Townsend, current executive director of the Iowa Civil Rights Commission, as acting director of IWD. He appointed Don Grove, former Iowa Civil Rights Commission director and current Iowa Civil Rights Commission employee, the acting executive director of the Iowa Civil Rights Commission.

The governor will appoint a permanent director at a later date. A timeline for naming a permanent director has not been set.

Branstad press release of January 20, 2011:

Branstad names Beth Townsend Director of the Iowa Civil Rights Commission

(DES MOINES) – Gov. Terry E. Branstad today announced that Beth Townsend will be the Director of the Iowa Civil Rights Commission in the Branstad/Reynolds administration.

“Today I am pleased to announce that Beth Townsend will serve as the Director of the Iowa Civil Rights Commission,” said Branstad. “Beth’s experience representing individuals before the commission over the past nine years will serve her well as she makes the transition into her new role.”

The Iowa Civil Rights Commission has a mission of enforcing civil rights though compliance, arbitration, support and education leading to safer, more inclusive communities.

“I am humbled to be asked to serve as the Director of the Iowa Civil Rights Commission,” said Townsend. I believe strongly in the Commission’s mission as I know Governor Branstad and Lieutenant Governor Reynolds do as well. I look forward to leading the Commission in meeting the needs of the citizens of Iowa to ensure that discrimination is ended where it exists and the process is fair and responsive to all parties before the Commission.”

Townsend currently has a private practice, Townsend Law Office, where she has represented individuals before the Iowa Civil Rights Commission, federal and state jurisdictions in the area of civil rights and employment law. Prior to starting her own practice, she was a partner at Fieldler, Townsend, Newkirk, P.L.C., where she also represented individuals before the Iowa Civil Rights Commission.

Previously, Townsend served as Judge Advocate General in the United States Air Force where she prosecuted and defended hundreds of airmen. Townsend also has served as a Reserve Military Trial Judge and presided over courts-martial.

Townsend earned a Bachelor of Science degree from University of Nebraska-Kearney and a Juris Doctor degree from University of Nebraska. Townsend resides in Urbandale, Iowa. She has one son.

Branstad press release of January 14, 2013:

Following impressive work serving Iowans, Branstad gives Beth Townsend a bonus

(DES MOINES) – Gov. Terry E. Branstad today announced he has given Iowa Civil Rights Commission Director Beth Townsend a bonus of $5,000 for her impressive work turning the culture of the Commission into one of service to Iowans.

“Beth has turned the Iowa Civil Rights Commission into an exemplary department striving to serve the people of Iowa,” said Branstad. “Beth’s impressive leadership and management has resulted in more efficient case work, reduced back log, streamlined intake and increased quality.”

In June 2011, three Iowa Civil Rights Commission employees were dismissed after a Townsend investigation found they were sending hundreds of emails to each other on personal accounts calling their peers derogatory nicknames during business hours.

One of the employees sent, on average, 75 emails a day on his personal account from March 2011 – June 1, 2011. The increase in personal emails resulted in slower case investigation.

“Lt. Gov. Reynolds and I made a commitment to change the culture of state government to one that serves the people of Iowa, not the other way around,” Branstad continued. “Iowans deserve a responsive Civil Rights Commission that gives them a fair hearing and takes each investigation seriously.”

Under Director Townsend’s leadership, the Iowa Civil Rights Commission has:

– In FY12, reduced the non-housing investigative backlog from 260 cases to 118 cases and a reduction in the average age of cases from over 535 days to 356 days.

– In FY12, reduced age of the oldest cases in the backlog from complaints filed in 2001 to those filed in December, 2010.

– Remain on track to eliminate the backlog entirely by the end of FY13.

– Streamlined complaint intake process, reducing the initial processing time by 71% and reducing the number of delays in the process by over 50%. Complaints are now being processed within 24-48 hours of receipt of the complaint, as opposed to historical average of 8-10 days.

– Significantly increased the overall quality and timeliness of all screening and investigative decisions prepared by the Iowa Civil Rights Commission.

– Probable cause rate increased 8x in FY12 from previous year and was higher than in any year over the past decade Townsend’s current salary is $97,000, the highest possible for her position. The governor’s practice is to utilize bonuses to provide a recognition and reward for exemplary performance.

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