Five unanswered questions about Iowa governor's staff salary payments

Governor Kim Reynolds has defended her decision to use nearly $450,000 in federal funds from the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security (CARES) Act to pay salaries and benefits for her permanent staffers.

But her comments at a September 16 news conference, along with information her staff provided to some reporters afterwards, left several salient questions unanswered.

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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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Ousted public health staffer alleges Iowa open records law violations

The Iowa Department of Public Health’s longtime communications director Polly Carver-Kimm filed suit on September 2, claiming she was wrongfully terminated, in violation of the state’s whistleblower law. Stephen Gruber-Miller first reported on the lawsuit for the Des Moines Register. I’ve enclosed below the District Court filing and Carver-Kimm’s parallel claims filed with the State Appeal Board.

Carver-Kimm was the lead media contact for IDPH thirteen years before she was told to resign or be fired in mid-July. Her attorney, Tom Duff, has represented other well-known Iowans who have sued the state on whistleblower claims or alleging wrongful termination, including former criminal investigator Larry Hedlund (who had caught the SUV carrying then Governor Terry Branstad speeding) and former Department of Human Services Director Jerry Foxhoven.

The day she was ousted, Carver-Kimm told the Des Moines Register’s Tony Leys she was “embarrassed and saddened by the way the media has been treated during COVID.” She asserted that she was stripped of her duties and eventually removed for being too open with journalists seeking information about the pandemic.

Her court filing and an accompanying news release from Duff’s office are more specific about alleged violations of Iowa’s open records law.

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