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NOTEBOOK: Evans: Governor wrong to think silence will work


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 last month 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.

A recent change in the state’s  public records law orders that that following information be public: “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.

The law requires openness even when it causes embarrassment or inconvenience.

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.

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 Iowans deserve to know the details of Jamison’s firing especially given a pattern of sexual harassment in state government. “It is clearly still a problem that needs to be addressed.”

When will government officials realize that sexual harassment, sexual abuse and thievery have no place in government service, and that trying to keep details secret is a lousy strategy for dealing with embarrassing news?

Randy Evans is executive director of the Iowa Freedom of Information Council. He contributes guest opinions on occasion.


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