Governor's office finally provides document requested in May

Governor Kim Reynolds’ senior legal counsel Michael Boal has belatedly provided a copy of former Iowa Veterans Home Commandant Timon Oujiri’s termination letter. On May 10, Bleeding Heartland asked the governor’s office and the Iowa Veterans Home for records showing the “documented reasons and rationale” for Oujiri’s dismissal, which Reynolds’ staff had recently confirmed.

Boal, who is the records custodian for the governor’s office, did not acknowledge receipt of the request at that time. He also ignored follow-up emails on June 30 and July 23, as did the governor’s chief of staff Sara Craig Gongol and spokesperson Pat Garrett, whom I copied on that correspondence. Staff at the veterans home likewise did not provide any responsive records.

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Governor facing two open records lawsuits

Governor Kim Reynolds’ office has flouted Iowa’s open records law since the earliest weeks of the COVID-19 pandemic. Now the governor and her senior legal counsel Michael Boal are facing two lawsuits filed by a Utah attorney seeking records related to Iowa’s pandemic response.

As first reported by Ryan Foley of the Associated Press, Suzette Rasmussen filed suit in Polk County District Court on August 12, after the governor’s office failed to provide correspondence about the Test Iowa program, first requested five months earlier.

One lawsuit stems from Rasmussen’s efforts to obtain “all correspondence regarding the Nomi Health COVID-19 contracts from March 1, 2020, through March 11, 2021.” The other request was for correspondence between Reynolds, her staff, and Utah Governor Gary Herbert and his staff regarding the test kits and contracts associated with NOMI Health. NOMI signed no-bid contracts to set up the Test Utah program and later Test Iowa.

Rasmussen sued the Iowa Department of Public Health in late July for failing to provide emails related to Test Iowa. She represents the Jittai group established by Paul Huntsman, who chairs the board of the Salt Lake Tribune newspaper. Jittai has filed hundreds of records requests in Utah, Iowa, Nebraska, and Tennessee, all of which signed no-bid contracts to create COVID-19 testing programs.

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Exclusive: Governor approved CARES Act spending on office tech upgrades

Governor Kim Reynolds approved plans last year to spend federal COVID-19 relief funds to upgrade the technology in her conference room, state records show.

The Office of Chief Information Officer (OCIO) paid vendor AVI Systems $67,543.48 in December for unspecified “IT Equipment and Software” and “IT Outside Services.” Published reports and searchable databases do not reveal that those purchases benefited the governor’s office. But documents Bleeding Heartland obtained through public records requests indicate that the spending covered new audio and video equipment installed in the Robert Ray Conference Room, which is part of the governor’s office suite.

Records also show the payments were supposed to come out of Iowa’s Coronavirus Relief Fund, a pot of federal money established under the March 2020 Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security (CARES) Act.

OCIO may have tapped a different funding source later to cover the conference room upgrade, as happened with a $39,512 project to migrate the governor’s office computers from Google suite to Microsoft Office 365 last year. Entries on the state’s online checkbook, totaling $67,543.48 to AVI Systems on the same December dates, do not mention the Coronavirus Relief Fund.

The governor’s spokesperson Pat Garrett ignored six inquiries over a two-week period. OCIO’s public information officer Gloria Van Rees also did not respond to eight messages during the same time frame seeking to clarify what funding stream paid for the conference room upgrades, and whether the governor’s office reimbursed OCIO for the payments to AVI Systems, as happened following the Office 365 migration.

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Iowa ethics board to review COVID-19 ads featuring governor

The Iowa Ethics and Campaign Disclosure Board will review advertisements featuring Governor Kim Reynolds, which were funded through federal COVID-19 relief dollars.

The board’s executive director Mike Marshall told Bleeding Heartland on June 18 that some commercials from the “Step Up, Stop the Spread” campaign launched last November “are now under review by the Ethics Board.” Earlier this month, State Auditor Rob Sand asked the board to consider whether the ads violated Iowa’s law banning state officials from engaging in “self-promotion with taxpayer funds.”

Marshall said he anticipates the ethics board will discuss the matter in closed session at its next meeting, scheduled for August 12.

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Iowa board approves formal probe of Heritage Action lobbying

The Iowa Ethics and Campaign Disclosure Board voted on May 26 to authorize a formal staff investigation of possible undisclosed lobbying of Governor Kim Reynolds’ office by the conservative group Heritage Action for America.

The board’s executive director and legal counsel Mike Marshall had been informally investigating the matter after Mother Jones published video of Heritage Action’s executive director bragging about helping to write voter suppression laws in Iowa and other states. Jessica Anderson told donors at a private meeting in April that her group had “worked quietly” with Iowa lawmakers to help draft and support a new election bill, getting it passed with “little fanfare.” But the Washington, DC based organization, which is affiliated with the Heritage Foundation, hadn’t registered a position on the bill or filed reports required of those who lobby state government.

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