Ousted public health staffer alleges Iowa open records law violations

June 2021 update: Carver-Kimm amended her lawsuit to include the two claims originally filed with the State Appeal Board. You can read the revised court filing here. The case is scheduled for trial in the summer of 2022. Original post follows.

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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Exclusive: Iowa's state medical director received 45% pay raise

The base pay for Iowa’s medical director and state epidemiologist Dr. Caitlin Pedati increased by 45 percent as the current fiscal year began on July 1, records obtained by Bleeding Heartland show. The additional $3,144 that Pedati began receiving per two-week pay period would translate to an extra $81,744 in base salary over twelve months.

The doctor leading the state’s COVID-19 pandemic response also received more than $55,000 in overtime pay from March through early July, even though her job class would not normally be eligible for overtime compensation.

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Ousted staffer pulls back curtain on Iowa's COVID-19 information blockade

“I am embarrassed and saddened by the way the media has been treated during COVID,” Polly Carver-Kimm wrote in an email to the Des Moines Register on July 15. “You are not receiving timely answers and you are getting scripted talking points when you do get an answer.”

Carver-Kimm discussed the state’s handling of press inquiries hours after being shown the door as communications director for the Iowa Department of Public Health.

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