Governor wrong to think silence will work

STRAY THOUGHTS

BY RANDY EVANS

Here we go again.        

The ink is barely dry on the $1.75 million check the taxpayers of Iowa had to write last fall to settle a sexual-harassment lawsuit won by an employee of the Iowa Senate Republican staff.

The leader of the Senate Republicans, Bill Dix of Shell Rock, resigned March 12, a few hours after photos and a video were made public showing him kissing a lobbyist for the Iowa League of Cities.

There’s more.

Gov. Kim Reynolds fired the director of the Iowa Finance Authority over the weekend after the governor received “credible allegations” that Dave Jamison had engaged in sexual harassment.

But Reynolds refused to elaborate on those allegations against Jamison, a fellow Republican who was appointed in 2011.

“I’m sorry, but to protect the privacy of IFA’s remaining employees, no further comment will be made,” Reynolds’ press secretary, Brenna Smith, told The Des Moines Register.

Wait a minute.

The Iowa Legislature amended the state’s public records a year ago to make it clear that the reasons a state or local government employee is fired, demoted or quits in lieu of termination must be made public upon request.

The amendment was pushed through the Legislature as Republicans in the House and Senate, with support from Gov. Terry Branstad and Lt. Gov. Kim Reynolds, hurried to make significant changes in the 45-year-old laws governing collective bargaining between government employers and their workers.

The changes in the public records law state that the following information relating to a government employee shall be a public record: “The fact that the individual resigned in lieu of termination, was discharged, or was demoted as the result of a disciplinary action, and the documented reasons and rationale for the resignation, … the discharge, or the demotion.”

The purpose behind the change was to remove a legal impediment that government officials said prevented them from fully explaining to the public how and why employees were disciplined or removed from their jobs.

There’s another section in the public records law that ought to address Reynolds’ concerns about the privacy of other employees of the Iowa Finance Authority. That section says it is “the policy of this chapter that free and open examination of public records is generally in the public interest even though such examination may cause inconvenience or embarrassment to public officials or others.”

The governor is kidding herself if she thinks the people of Iowa will let her stick with her staff’s “we can’t comment on that” non-explanation about Jamison.

Iowans are right to insist that she explain what form Jamison’s harassment took, who his victim or victims were, where this harassment occurred, how long these actions have been going on, and when Jamison’s misconduct was first reported to people in the Reynolds administration.

Bill Dix tried a similar “I can’t comment on that” strategy last fall when an internal Senate investigation was completed after the verdict in favor of Kirsten Anderson. Dix had fired her just hours after she filed a complaint about being subjected to sexual harassment at work.

It is obvious Gov. Reynolds has not stopped to fully analyze how her being more concerned for the privacy of Jamison’s employees and less concerned about informing the people of Iowa will play across the state.

Taxpayers already feel bruised by having to pay the sexual harassment verdict against the Iowa Senate Republicans, and they will want to know whether their wallets will be on the line again in another courtroom because of Jamison’s actions.

I’m no political campaign wizard, but I can already foresee the ads Democrats will roll out leading up to the November general election — ads that remind voters about the $1.75 million payout, about the $380,000 the fired director of the Iowa Communications Network misspent on friends and a private business of his, and about the Jamison firing.

Senate Minority Leader Janet Petersen, a Des Moines Democrat, said over the weekend: “Iowans deserve to hear the details surrounding director Jamison’s termination. We have seen multiple cases of sexual harassment in state government. It is clearly still a problem that needs to be addressed.”

When will government officials learn?

When will they realize that sexual harassment, sexual abuse and thievery have no place in government service?

When will officials like the governor learn that trying to keep details secret is a pretty lousy strategy for dealing with embarrassing news?

State government belongs to the people of Iowa, and they are entitled to know what an official making $130,000 a year did that cost him his job.