Six questions Reynolds must answer about fired Iowa agency director

Governor Kim Reynolds fired Dave Jamison as Iowa Finance Authority director “effective immediately” this weekend, due to “credible allegations of sexual harassment.” Communications director Brenna Smith “declined to provide more details about the allegations” than what appeared in the official announcement, William Petroski reported for the Des Moines Register.

“I’m sorry, but to protect the privacy of IFA’s remaining employees, no further comment will be made,” Smith said in an email.

That won’t cut it.

The full text of the March 24 press release was fewer than 60 words long.

Gov. Kim Reynolds has terminated Iowa Finance Authority (IFA) Director Dave Jamison, effective immediately.

On Friday evening, the governor’s office was made aware of credible allegations of sexual harassment against Director Jamison. Upon learning this, Gov. Reynolds terminated Director Jamison’s employment.

Gov. Reynolds has named IFA Chief Programs Officer Carolann Jensen as interim director.

At a minimum, Reynolds or her staff need to explain:

1. What alleged events or actions prompted Jamison’s dismissal?

“Sexual harassment” can refer to many kinds of unacceptable behavior. Was Jamison found to have created a hostile workplace environment with sexually suggestive comments or jokes? Was he touching people without consent or making unwelcome sexual advances? Was he retaliating against targets of the alleged harassment? Or promoting someone unqualified because of a personal entanglement?

Iowa Senate Minority leader Janet Petersen told the Des Moines Register, “Iowans deserve to hear the details surrounding director Jamison’s termination. We have seen multiple cases of sexual harassment in state government. It is clearly still a problem that needs to be addressed.”

2. How many people were allegedly harassed?

The evidence brought to Reynolds on Friday night must have been compelling for the governor to have immediately fired Jamison rather than directing her staff to do more fact-finding.

Was the governor’s office informed about one egregious incident, or of behavior involving multiple victims?

3. How long has the alleged harassment been going on?

Jamison has led the agency that primarily manages housing programs since January 2011, the beginning of Terry Branstad’s second stint as governor. Did the recently reported information point to an isolated event or a longstanding pattern?

NBC fired Matt Lauer as co-host of “Today” immediately after receiving what the network claimed was “the first complaint about his behavior in the over 20 years he’s been at NBC News.” However, Ramin Setoodeh and Elizabeth Wagmeister interviewed current or former colleagues who attested to inappropriate behavior by Lauer over many years.

4. When did those affected by Jamison’s alleged behavior first report problems?

The rapid response from Reynolds doesn’t preclude the possibility that others in state government have known about the alleged harassment for a long time.

Democratic State Representative Mary Wolfe, who is also an attorney, commented on Twitter over the weekend that Jamison is a public official. Taxpayer money covered his salary and will cover the judgment in any legal action brought by those he harassed. “No need to name victims but IA taxpayers entitled to know what he allegedly did/over what period of time/WHO ELSE (other than victims) KNEW HE WAS DOING IT?”

5. Who informed the governor’s staff?

In a classic example of the passive voice politicians love (but good writers shun), the press release states “the governor’s office was made aware of credible allegations” on Friday evening.

Who brought the matter to their attention? One of the alleged victims? A whistleblower from within Iowa Finance Authority? Someone from the Department of Administrative Services, which handles human resources for some state agencies? Someone outside government?

6. Did anyone previously inform Branstad or Reynolds staff about possible problems with Jamison, and if so, when?

David Yepsen, the longtime political reporter who now hosts “Iowa Press” on Iowa Public Television, reacted to the news as follows: “A big political plus for Reynolds. Fast, decisive. Contrasts positively with the fumbling around on this issue by IA Senate Repubs.”

Handling sexual harassment claims better than Iowa Senate Republicans is the ultimate low bar (see here, here, here, here, here, here, and here).

But sure, Reynolds did well to act quickly when informed of whatever Jamison is said to have done.

Did anyone who works for her know there might be a sexual harassment problem at Iowa Finance Authority? Was the issue on the radar of anyone in the governor’s office while Branstad served?

It’s reasonable to wonder whether state employees might have been reluctant to bring such suspicions to the governor’s attention. Jason Noble quoted Jamison praising Reynolds in a January 2017 profile for the Des Moines Register, noting that the two “worked closely” on policies as “officeholders in the Iowa State Treasurers Association.” Jamison served as Story County treasurer from 1995 through 2010. Reynolds served as Clarke County treasurer from 1995 through 2008, when she was elected to the Iowa Senate.

I’ve submitted these questions to the governor’s office and will update this post with their answers, or as other journalists are able to obtain additional details.

UPDATE: At her regular weekly press conference on March 26, Reynolds declined to provide details about the alleged harassment. She didn’t speak to Jamison but told reporters he had completed the mandatory sexual harassment training for state employees. According to Reynolds, several victims contacted her chief of staff on Friday night.

She also said, “I have a zero tolerance policy and it’s not selective [….] I hope this sends a really strong message.”

For “zero tolerance” to have meaning, we need to know not just the final result, but how the whole process unfolded: what happened, to whom, over what length of time. And why did the victims contact Reynolds’ chief of staff? Was he the first person they had ever told about the alleged harassment? Or had they gotten no results after reporting through other channels, either within the Iowa Finance Authority or the Department of Administrative Services?

SECOND UPDATE: During the press conference (starting around the 16-minute mark of this video), Reynolds said she did not do additional fact-finding after victims came to her chief of staff Jake Ketzner on Friday night. The following morning, the governor met with Ketzner, senior legal counsel Ryan Koopmans, Department of Administrative Services Director Janet Phipps, and Department of Management Director David Roederer. She fired Jamison that afternoon.

She emphasized several times that Jamison “is an at-will employee.” For reasons the governor did not explain, the victims did not file any complaint through human resources channels within Iowa Finance Authority, nor had they reported the incidents to anyone before going to the governor’s chief of staff. Reynolds noted that it takes courage to report harassment, and said she was refusing to elaborate on what happened “at the request of the victims, and to protect their privacy and identity.”

THIRD UPDATE: Kathie Obradovich was on target in her latest Des Moines Register column, “Unanswered questions shade Gov. Kim Reynolds’ ‘strong message’ on sexual harassment.”

It’s commendable that Reynolds wants to send a strong message to potential victims that they will be heard and believed. But it’s also important for potential victims and potential harassers both inside and outside state government to understand what sort of conduct is being punished.

It seems like it should be possible for Reynolds to disclose how many accusers are involved without revealing who they are. She could describe the time period the alleged harassment took place and whether it started or continued after Jamison took the state-mandated sexual harassment training course.

Was Jamison accused of making unwelcome advances? Is the claim that he touched someone inappropriately or that he made suggestive comments? Did the accusers ask him to stop and if so, did he persist?

Reynolds said she didn’t engage in any fact-finding. She said Jamison is employed at will and the allegations were credible. But she hasn’t explained what made them credible.

Reynolds wants Iowans to believe she’s showing strong leadership – but she’s asking us to take on faith that she’s only protecting the victims.

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