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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Iowa's COVID-19 website rewrites history every day

If you visit coronavirus.iowa.gov and view the graphs on the “case counts” page, you might expect to learn how many Iowans were tested for COVID-19 on any given day, and how many of those tests came back positive or negative.

You would be wrong.

Every day, records of hundreds or thousands of old tests disappear from the website. Consequently, it is impossible to reconstruct an accurate picture of Iowa’s testing numbers or positivity rates, either statewide or at a county level.

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State won't clarify how Iowa counts COVID-19 deaths

This project started with the goal of clearing up some confusion surrounding Iowa’s novel coronavirus (COVID-19) death statistics.

Specifically, I wanted to debunk a conspiracy theory making the rounds on Facebook, Twitter, and Reddit.

I also planned to explain why the number of deaths for a given day on the state’s official website (coronavirus.iowa.gov) didn’t always match the number of new deaths that had been announced on that date. Many readers had asked about the discrepancy.

I was almost ready to publish in early July, but I needed to nail down one detail. Did the total fatalities on the state website (793 at this writing) reflect all of what the U.S. Centers for Disease Control describes as “multiple cause” COVID-19 deaths, or only what the CDC labels “underlying cause” deaths?

After asking that question more than half a dozen times over two and a half weeks, I still haven’t received an answer. So much for the Iowa Department of Public Health’s supposed “transparency” and “constant communication with media” on the pandemic.

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State Fair meeting was affront to open government

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

The decision last week to cancel the Iowa State Fair was a reminder of the seriousness of coronavirus and the consequences of many people’s anxiety about returning to activities that normally are an important part of Iowa life.

But the State Fair’s decision also illuminated an embarrassing disconnect from the norms of government transparency and accountability in our state.

I have attended government meetings for 50 years — from small-town city councils and school boards, to state boards and commissions. I have never seen or heard about a more outrageous abuse of the principle of open government than the State Fair Board exhibited last week.

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Reynolds dodges tough call; State Fair board dodges open meetings practice

In its most closely-watched meeting in living memory, the Iowa State Fair board voted on June 10 not to hold the fair this year, due to the coronavirus pandemic.

Although the board’s 11-2 vote was livestreamed, the brief meeting shed no light on the deliberations. There was no public discussion of the pros and cons of postponing the event until 2021. Nor did members debate alternative scenarios explored by staff, like holding a scaled-back event with limited attendance, mandatory face coverings, or temperature checks.

All board members present avoided a public stand on the difficult decision through a secret ballot vote, in apparent contradiction with Iowa’s open meetings law.

Governor Kim Reynolds’ designated representative on the body missed the meeting entirely.

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