Exclusive: Iowa governor used CARES Act funds to pay staff salaries

Governor Kim Reynolds directed that nearly $450,000 in federal funding the state of Iowa received through the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security (CARES) Act be used to cover salaries and benefits for staff working in her office.

According to documents Bleeding Heartland obtained from the Iowa Department of Management through public records requests, the funds will cover more than 60 percent of the compensation for 21 employees from March 14 through June 30, 2020.

Reynolds has not disclosed that she allocated funds for that purpose, and reports produced by the nonpartisan Legislative Services Agency have not mentioned any CARES Act funding received by the governor’s office. Nor do any such disbursements appear on a database showing thousands of state government expenditures under the CARES Act.

The governor’s communications director Pat Garrett did not respond to four requests for comment over a two-week period.

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Questions and answers: Jerry Foxhoven's wrongful termination claim

Former Iowa Department of Human Services director Jerry Foxhoven revealed more details about his wrongful termination claim on August 1. He asserts that he was fired after expressing concern about the DHS continuing to pay a large share of the salary for the governor’s deputy chief of staff, Paige Thorson.

As Bleeding Heartland reported last week, Thorson worked extensively on Medicaid-related issues for some time, but she became less involved with the DHS this spring, as Governor Kim Reynolds brought on a new health policy adviser.

Foxhoven and his attorney Tom Duff released a written statement and answered many follow-up questions during a 45-minute news conference. Radio Iowa posted the full audio. The questions and answers below are not a transcript from the conference, but rather my effort to put information about Foxhoven’s case in context for readers.

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Jerry Foxhoven to claim wrongful termination, retaliation

Jerry Foxhoven will pursue legal action claiming retaliation and wrongful termination as director of the Iowa Department of Human Services, Ryan Foley was first to report for the Associated Press on July 31. His attorney, Tom Duff, told the AP

that Foxhoven objected to a request to continue to have his agency fund most of the salary of the governor’s deputy chief of staff, Paige Thorson. Duff says that Foxhoven believed the arrangement made sense when he approved it in 2018. But he said that, by June, Foxhoven believed Thorson was no longer furthering the agency’s interests.

Duff plans to release a more detailed statement at an August 1 news conference, his office told Iowa reporters today.

As Bleeding Heartland discussed here, Thorson had handled health policy for the governor’s office since late 2017, but Governor Kim Reynolds brought Liz Matney over from the DHS this spring to be her health policy advisor.

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Leader quits Iowa civil rights enforcement agency (updated)

The Iowa Civil Rights Commission’s interim executive director stepped down last week, following an extended period of uncertainty for the agency charged with enforcing the Iowa Civil Rights Act.

Linda Grathwohl did not explain her decision in the letter she delivered to Governor Kim Reynolds on July 11. In an e-mail to the commission’s staff the same day, Grathwohl didn’t specify any reason for leaving, saying she planned to return to Iowa Legal Aid once her resignation was effective on July 25. Attempts to reach Grathwohl for further comment by phone, e-mail, and Facebook message were unsuccessful.

Nearly seven months have passed since Grathwohl’s predecessor, Kristin Johnson, left at the end of her term. Reynolds has not appointed a permanent executive director, and correspondence obtained by Bleeding Heartland through a public records request shows little sign the governor or her staff are interested in the agency’s work.

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Why was Jerry Foxhoven worried?

Jerry Foxhoven has shed more light on the disagreement that preceded his forced departure as Iowa Department of Human Services director last month. On July 24 he told David Pitt of the Associated Press “that he declined to approve paying the salary of Elizabeth Matney, who left DHS on May 17 to accept a job as Gov. Kim Reynolds’ adviser on health policy.”

Staff for Reynolds disputed Foxhoven’s account, saying he never raised concerns about covering Matney’s salary and wasn’t fired for that reason. They also noted that for many years, state agencies including DHS have occasionally paid employees working in the governor’s office.

Foxhoven’s aware of that precedent, having signed some of the relevant documents himself. So why would he question the legality of this arrangement? The former director’s comments to reporters and records obtained by Bleeding Heartland provide some clues.

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