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.

Continue Reading...

More secrecy unwise in universities’ hiring decisions

Randy Evans is executive director of the Iowa Freedom of Information Council. He can be reached at IowaFOICouncil@gmail.com.

Iowa’s three state universities made a U-turn this summer, and they now are headed down the road toward secrecy with some hiring decisions.

The about-face should trouble taxpayers of this state. It also should bother state lawmakers, who have expressed concern in recent years that the universities are out of touch with the people of Iowa.

Continue Reading...

Governor's office finally provides document requested in May

Governor Kim Reynolds’ senior legal counsel Michael Boal has belatedly provided a copy of former Iowa Veterans Home Commandant Timon Oujiri’s termination letter. On May 10, Bleeding Heartland asked the governor’s office and the Iowa Veterans Home for records showing the “documented reasons and rationale” for Oujiri’s dismissal, which Reynolds’ staff had recently confirmed.

Boal, who is the records custodian for the governor’s office, did not acknowledge receipt of the request at that time. He also ignored follow-up emails on June 30 and July 23, as did the governor’s chief of staff Sara Craig Gongol and spokesperson Pat Garrett, whom I copied on that correspondence. Staff at the veterans home likewise did not provide any responsive records.

Continue Reading...

State universities hiding insider hires from public

In a reversal of longstanding practice, Iowa’s three state universities now refuse to reveal names of employees hired without open job searches, Vanessa Miller reported for the Cedar Rapids Gazette on August 20.

The University of Iowa informed Miller in July that its Office of General Counsel, in consultation with the Iowa Board of Regents staff, “has determined that search waiver records are confidential personnel records […].” Staff for Iowa State University and the University of Northern Iowa subsequently declined to provide records related to employees hired without following the normal guidelines for public searches (such as advertising the position, forming a search committee, and interviewing candidates).

For years, Miller has periodically requested and received documents showing who was hired at each state university without a formal job search.

The about-face happened soon after former University of Iowa President’s Bruce Harreld’s departure, suggesting the university may be trying to conceal one or more cushy jobs Harreld secured for cronies on his way out.

Continue Reading...

Governor facing two open records lawsuits

Governor Kim Reynolds’ office has flouted Iowa’s open records law since the earliest weeks of the COVID-19 pandemic. Now the governor and her senior legal counsel Michael Boal are facing two lawsuits filed by a Utah attorney seeking records related to Iowa’s pandemic response.

As first reported by Ryan Foley of the Associated Press, Suzette Rasmussen filed suit in Polk County District Court on August 12, after the governor’s office failed to provide correspondence about the Test Iowa program, first requested five months earlier.

One lawsuit stems from Rasmussen’s efforts to obtain “all correspondence regarding the Nomi Health COVID-19 contracts from March 1, 2020, through March 11, 2021.” The other request was for correspondence between Reynolds, her staff, and Utah Governor Gary Herbert and his staff regarding the test kits and contracts associated with NOMI Health. NOMI signed no-bid contracts to set up the Test Utah program and later Test Iowa.

Rasmussen sued the Iowa Department of Public Health in late July for failing to provide emails related to Test Iowa. She represents the Jittai group established by Paul Huntsman, who chairs the board of the Salt Lake Tribune newspaper. Jittai has filed hundreds of records requests in Utah, Iowa, Nebraska, and Tennessee, all of which signed no-bid contracts to create COVID-19 testing programs.

Continue Reading...

Utah attorney sues state agency for Test Iowa records

An attorney representing the board chair of the Salt Lake Tribune has sued the Iowa Department of Public Health (IDPH) and its records custodian for failing to provide email correspondence related to the $26 million Test Iowa program.

Paul Huntsman confirmed on July 30 that the lawsuit Suzette Rasmussen filed in Polk County the previous day is part of his Jittai initiative. The Tribune’s board chair recently created Jittai in order “to learn more about TestUtah and its sister programs” created through similar no-bid contracts in Iowa, Tennessee, and Nebraska. Florida also implemented parts of the program.

According to the court filing, which is posted in full below, Rasmussen wrote to Sarah Ekstrand in March seeking “copies of all correspondence between the Iowa Department of Public Health, including but not limited to Interim Director Kelly Garcia, and the Iowa Governor’s Office, Utah state officials, Nebraska state officials, and Tennessee state officials regarding the Test Iowa Contract” from March 1, 2020 to March 11, 2021.

Continue Reading...
View More...