Exclusive: Bonuses push five Iowa agency heads above maximum pay

Governor Kim Reynolds has approved bonuses for at least five current state agency directors, allowing them to receive substantially more compensation than the top of the pay scale Iowa law sets for their positions.

The Iowa Department of Administrative Services disclosed information about four agency leaders now receiving such bonuses in response to Bleeding Heartland’s public records request. The Cedar Rapids Gazette’s Erin Jordan was first to report on Homeland Security and Emergency Management Director Paul Trombino’s bonus, in an article published April 7.

This post discusses each official’s bonus pay in the order that they were awarded. The governor’s spokesperson Pat Garrett did not respond to an April 7 email seeking to clarify whether any other heads of state departments are receiving greater compensation than the statutory maximum for their positions.

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Exclusive: Iowa governor overspent office budget before tapping CARES Act

Governor Kim Reynolds’ office would have had a large shortfall for the fiscal year that ended June 30 without a transfer of federal funds from the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security (CARES) Act, state financial reports show.

Documents Bleeding Heartland obtained through public records requests indicate that in mid-September, the state’s accounting system showed $448,448.86 was needed to balance the fiscal year 2020 appropriation for the governor’s office. Reynolds’ chief of staff Sara Craig Gongol invoiced the Iowa Department of Homeland Security for exactly that amount in CARES Act funds shortly before the books closed on fiscal year 2020.

That invoice and an accompanying document on “COVID-19 Personnel Costs” were revised to incorporate language from U.S. Treasury guidance on allowable Coronavirus Relief Fund expenditures.

For many years, during several administrations, Iowa governors have maintained a larger office than the general fund appropriation would otherwise allow by having separate state agencies support some employees’ salaries. But it has not been typical to use hundreds of thousands of federal dollars to balance the books. Without the CARES Act funding, Reynolds’ office would have been deeply in the red during the last fiscal year, even after four state agencies chipped in a total of $357,652 to cover part of four staffers’ compensation.

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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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