Exclusive: Other agencies covered $900K in governor's office costs

Governor Kim Reynolds’ office was able to spend nearly 40 percent more than its $2.3 million budget appropriation during the last fiscal year, mostly by shifting personnel costs onto other state agencies.

Documents Bleeding Heartland obtained through public records requests show that eight state agencies covered $812,420.83 in salaries and benefits for nine employees in the governor’s office from July 1, 2020 through June 30, 2021. In addition, the Office for State-Federal Relations in Washington, DC remained understaffed, as it has been throughout Reynolds’ tenure. The vacant position should allow roughly $85,000 in unspent funds to be used to balance the rest of the governor’s office budget, as happened last year.

The governor’s communications director Pat Garrett did not respond to four inquiries over the past two weeks related to the office budget. But records indicate that unlike in 2020, federal COVID-19 relief funds will not be tapped to cover salaries for Reynolds’ permanent staffers in fiscal year 2021.

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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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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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Paul Trombino heading to local government job in Colorado

Paul Trombino III will be the next public works director of city of Greeley, Colorado, the city announced on May 28. He was hired following a national search, according to a news release enclosed in full below. The job was posted in February, so Trombino must have applied only weeks after becoming Iowa’s Homeland Security and Emergency Management director.

Governor Kim Reynolds’ office announced Trombino’s impending departure on May 20. The news surprised many observers, since the governor had worked closely with her chief operating officer for two years and awarded him a large bonus in February, ensuring he wouldn’t take a pay cut when transitioning to the Homeland Security position.

Trombino’s resignation from his Iowa government post becomes effective June 3. Reynolds hasn’t yet announced her choice to run the Homeland Security agency, which oversees disaster preparedness and relief operations and has administered tens of millions of dollars in federal COVID-19 relief funds.

Most of the CARES Act funding transferred to Homeland Security is tied to the state or local match for the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s Public Assistance Program. Reynolds also approved a $1 million transfer for “State Government COVID Staffing,” from which $448,449 was used to cover personnel costs in the governor’s office. The remaining $551,551 set aside for that purpose remains unspent, a state database shows. A Homeland Security communications staffer told me last year, “Although that funding was transferred to our department to process, we are not the decision makers on how it will be spent.”

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Late budget amendment sought funds for no-bid Homeland Security contract

One day before Iowa lawmakers adjourned for the year, the Iowa Senate amended a spending bill to allocate $4.5 million over two years to the Iowa Department of Homeland Security and Emergency Management for a sole source contract.

The funding to install a mobile panic button system in Iowa’s K-12 schools could only have been used by Rave Mobile Safety, which recently signed a contract with the Homeland Security department to replace Iowa’s emergency mass notification system.

The Iowa House altered the bill to leave the funding in place without an earmark for a specific product. But the last-minute effort raises questions about whether outgoing Homeland Security Director Paul Trombino III sought the funding to benefit a company represented by one of Iowa’s most influential lobbyists.

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