More secrecy unwise in universities’ hiring decisions

Randy Evans is executive director of the Iowa Freedom of Information Council. He can be reached at IowaFOICouncil@gmail.com.

Iowa’s three state universities made a U-turn this summer, and they now are headed down the road toward secrecy with some hiring decisions.

The about-face should trouble taxpayers of this state. It also should bother state lawmakers, who have expressed concern in recent years that the universities are out of touch with the people of Iowa.

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Governor holds over agency directors Iowa Senate didn't confirm

In an unusual move, Governor Kim Reynolds is allowing two state agency directors she appointed early this year to continue serving through next year’s legislative session, even though they lacked the votes to be confirmed by the Iowa Senate.

Reynolds withdrew the nominations of Department of Management Director Michael Bousselot and Department of Administrative Services Director Adam Steen shortly before state lawmakers adjourned for the year in May. Days later, she rejected the directors’ resignations, saying she would resubmit their names to the Senate in 2022, documents obtained through public records requests show.

The governor’s office has not publicly announced Reynolds’ decision to hold over Bousselot and Steen and did not respond to Bleeding Heartland’s inquiries.

The Department of Management handles state budget planning as well as disbursements from Iowa’s general fund and various other funds. The Department of Administrative Services handles human resources, payroll, and procurement of goods and services for state government.

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Why oversight of Iowa's COVID-19 spending just got more important

Three state agencies that play important roles in Iowa’s use of COVID-19 relief funds will have new leadership in the coming weeks.

The turnover underscores the need for lawmakers, state and federal auditors, and the news media to keep a close watch on how Governor Kim Reynolds’ administration spends money Congress approved last year to address the coronavirus pandemic.

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Sedgwick landed six-year, $7.9 million state contract with also-ran cost proposal

Des Moines freelance writer John Morrissey digs into how a well-connected company landed a lucrative state contract. Laura Belin contributed reporting to this story.

Four months after being awarded a contract to administer Iowa’s worker’s compensation program for state employees, a politically connected West Des Moines company has apparently not come to terms with the state to continue its work.

Sedgwick Claims Management Services LLC was selected in early March to keep handling the program, even though a competitor achieved a better score on three cost proposal items. The state will pay Sedgwick $7.9 million in administrative costs over six years. Runner-up bidder TRISTAR Risk Enterprise Management LLC offered to do the work for a little more than $6 million, a potential savings of nearly $1.9 million over the contract period.

The Iowa Department of Administrative Services (DAS) provided copies of all submitted bids for the current and previous bid cycles upon receiving John Morrissey’s public records request. But the department has declined further comment about the award and refused to clarify the scoring system or other matters related to this bid process. The new DAS director Jim Kurtenbach did not respond to a request for an interview about this matter.

Sedgwick’s bid contact officer referred questions to several state officials and the company’s public relations office. That office also did not respond to Bleeding Heartland’s inquiry.

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Jim Kurtenbach to lead Iowa's HR agency. What was Kim Reynolds thinking?

Governor Kim Reynolds announced last week that Jim Kurtenbach will be the new director of the Iowa Department of Administrative Services (DAS), effective July 1. Paul Trombino has held that position on an interim basis for about a month, after the Iowa Senate did not confirm previous DAS Director Janet Phipps.

Tapping Kurtenbach for this job was a strange choice. The agency has broad responsibility for human resources, procurement, and accounting on behalf of the state. Sexual harassment or discrimination by senior officials has led to several lawsuits against the state and millions of dollars in settlements in recent years. Yet not only does Kurtenbach lack relevant experience in the HR field, his hiring and managerial decisions as Iowa State University’s vice president and chief information officer were far from a model for best practices.

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