Laura Belin

Ten ways Dr. Caitlin Pedati failed Iowans

State Medical Director and Epidemiologist Dr. Caitlin Pedati is leaving the Iowa Department of Public Health (IDPH) in late October, the agency announced on September 22.

The leader of Iowa’s COVID-19 response had hardly been seen in public all year and granted few media interviews. Pedati was an occasional speaker at Governor Kim Reynolds’ televised news conferences during the first eight months of the pandemic, but had not appeared at one since November 2020.

The unexplained departure raised questions about whether Pedati walked or was forced out. Reynolds’ new spokesperson Alex Murphy told Bleeding Heartland via email that no one in the governor’s office asked the medical director to leave. “This was a personal decision by Dr. Pedati.” Murphy also said the governor won’t pick her successor; rather, IDPH Director Kelly Garcia “and her team will handle the hiring.”

I’ll be seeking records that could show whether Pedati (a board-certified pediatrician) disagreed with any aspects of Iowa’s COVID-19 mitigation strategy, such as grossly inadequate guidance for schools or the retreat from recommending masks, even for unvaccinated people crowded together indoors.

Whether or not Pedati had any private misgivings, she repeatedly failed to keep Iowans safe or adequately informed during this pandemic, which has already killed more than 1 in 500 Iowa residents who were alive eighteen months ago.

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Grassley says wasn't approached to assist Trump coup attempt

U.S. Senator Chuck Grassley told reporters on September 22 that associates of President Donald Trump did not attempt to enlist him in a plan to declare Trump the winner of the electoral vote on January 6.

In their new book Peril, Bob Woodward and Robert Costa were first to report on a memo Trump’s attorney John Eastman drafted, which claimed that Vice President Mike Pence “(or Senate Pro Tempore Grassley, if Pence recuses himself)” could reject slates of electors from seven states that voted for Biden. Then the presiding officer could declare Trump re-elected, or that since no candidate received 270 electoral votes, the election should be decided in the U.S. House, where Republicans control 26 state delegations.

A longer memo by Eastman, which laid out the same strategy for subverting the peaceful transfer of power, does not mention Grassley.

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Iowa wildflower Wednesday: Siberian Cranesbill

I was excited to find a patch of “new” (to me) wildflowers near the banks of North Walnut Creek a few weeks ago. Since I wasn’t familiar with these small pink flowers, I posted a few photos to the Iowa wildflower enthusiasts Facebook group. Lora Conrad quickly identified the plants as Siberian Cranesbill (Geranium sibiricum).

As the common name suggests, this species originated in Eurasia, not North America. Although I usually showcase native plants for Bleeding Heartland’s wildflower series, today will be one of my occasional exceptions.

Minnesota Wildflowers offered tips for distinguishing Siberian Cranesbill from the similar-looking native Bicknell’s Cranesbill. As Lora explained, the plant I photographed has single flower stalks, is hairy, and blooms in August and September—all signs pointing to the introduced species. The habitat (partial sun, loamy soil, near disturbed ground) is also consistent with where this species often thrives.

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Health agency hiring temporary help with public records requests

The Iowa Department of Public Health is hiring a temporary staffer to assist public information officer Sarah Ekstrand in processing open records requests. The job listing says the new hire will help review and update the agency’s system for tracking requests, communicate with members of the public about the status of requests, help refine search terms, provide cost estimates, and review documents to see if they can be withheld as confidential.

The application deadline for the position was September 16. The temporary hire will be paid between $26.61 and $40.50 an hour, for at most 780 hours of work in the current fiscal year. That works out to about 20 weeks of full-time efforts devoted to processing records requests between now and June 30, 2022.

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ISU accounting problems delay many other state audits

Accounting problems at Iowa State University have delayed not only Iowa’s Comprehensive Annual Financial Report for fiscal year 2020, but also dozens of annual reports on state government entities.

The ongoing issues at ISU have pushed other audit work months behind schedule, Deputy State Auditor Marlys Gaston explained during a 20-minute presentation to the Iowa Board of Regents on September 15. In addition, Gaston told the governing body for Iowa’s state universities the State Auditor’s office expects to issue an internal control finding to ISU. That rarely happens for the Regents institutions and indicates that ISU’s financial statements for FY2020 included inaccurate information.

ISU switched to the Workday computer system for accounting at the beginning of the 2020 fiscal year. The subsequent challenges raise questions about what will happen when most state government agencies transition to Workday for accounting, which is supposed to occur during the summer of 2022.

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