Exclusive: Iowa medical director's 45% raise violated state policy

Iowa Medical Director Dr. Caitlin Pedati received a 45 percent raise this summer despite a state policy limiting within-grade pay increases, records obtained by Bleeding Heartland show.

Department of Administrative Services (DAS) Interim Director Paul Trombino III advocated for Pedati to receive the unusually large raise three weeks after informing state agency directors that they could give employees within-grade salary hikes of up to 3 percent.

State rules also require that “any within grade pay increase must be accompanied by a current performance evaluation,” Trombino reminded directors in the same memo. However, staff with the Iowa Department of Public Health (IDPH) and DAS did not answer questions about whether anyone has formally reviewed Pedati’s work this year.

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Exclusive: Payment scheme concealed CARES Act funds for governor's staff

Federal funds used to cover salaries and benefits for Governor Kim Reynolds’ staffers were routed through the Iowa Department of Homeland Security and Emergency Management, rather than going directly to the governor’s office.

Because of the unique arrangement, state agencies’ databases and published reports on expenditures from the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security (CARES) Act do not reveal that any funding supported the governor’s office. Instead, some show allocations from Iowa’s Coronavirus Relief Fund to Homeland Security, from which $448,449 was spent on “COVID Staffing” or “State Government COVID Staffing.”

That’s the exact dollar amount Reynolds approved to pay permanent employees on her staff for part of their work during the last three and a half months of the 2020 fiscal year. Other agencies that had staff working on the pandemic response from the State Emergency Operations Center, such as the Iowa Department of Public Health, did not receive CARES Act funding through the same indirect route.

The governor’s communications director Pat Garrett and chief of staff Sara Craig Gongol did not respond to six inquiries over a three-week period about how these payments were made and recorded.

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State moves forward on merging human services, public health programs

The state of Iowa is looking for a private company to help integrate programs of the Iowa Department of Human Services (DHS) and Department of Public Health (IDPH).

Governor Kim Reynolds indicated this summer that she planned to merge many operations of the departments, which serve a combined total of more than 1 million Iowans. After Gerd Clabaugh announced plans to retire as IDPH director, Reynolds appointed DHS Director Kelly Garcia to serve simultaneously as interim director of public health, saying in a news release, “This is an opportunity to increase cooperation and collaboration between these two agencies to better serve Iowans.”

A Request for Proposal reveals more details about the planned scope of the reorganization, which is scheduled to begin early next year. Notably, control of infectious diseases is among the areas of the IDPH’s work that will be “excluded from the redesign.”

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Auditor: Iowa governor misused $21 million in COVID-19 relief funds

Governor Kim Reynolds erred in directing that $21 million in federal funding from the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security (CARES) Act be used to cover the cost of a software system purchased before the COVID-19 pandemic, according to State Auditor Rob Sand.

Sand announced on October 19 that he and the U.S. Treasury Department’s Inspector General “have advised Iowa Governor Kim Reynolds that her decision to use millions of CARES Act dollars to help implement a new software system for state government was not an allowable use of the funds.” The Treasury Department and governor’s office did not respond to requests for confirmation and comment.

Sand also described as “questionable” the use of CARES Act funds to pay the governor’s permanent staff. Bleeding Heartland was first to report last month that Reynolds directed $448,449 in COVID-19 relief funds to pay a portion of salaries and benefits for 21 of her staffers from mid-March through June 2020. Sand warned that a federal audit may eventually determine that the payments did not meet requirements, so reallocating the funds to purposes clearly allowed under the CARES Act would be less risky for taxpayers.

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Corrections department belatedly shows concern for following Iowa law

The Iowa Board of Corrections violated state law in 2019 by failing to send Governor Kim Reynolds a list of individuals qualified to serve as director of the Department of Corrections, a state audit confirmed on September 21.

Department officials assured auditors they would share the findings with the Board of Corrections and advise members of their duties under state law. Spokesperson Cord Overton told Bleeding Heartland on September 22 the department had sent board members a copy of the findings and the relevant code section.

He didn’t explain why the department failed to ensure that the board complied with the statute last year, when Marty Ryan raised concerns with the acting director.

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