The head of Iowa’s largest state employees’ union and four Democratic state lawmakers on Thursday filed a lawsuit seeking to block plans by Republican Gov. Terry Branstad’s administration to close the troubled Iowa Juvenile Home in Toledo.
The lawsuit filed in Polk County District Court against Branstad and Charles Palmer, director of the state Department of Human Services, seeks a court injunction to prevent the state from closing the Toledo facility.
Joining in the lawsuit were Danny Homan, president of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME) Iowa Council 61, and state Sen. Jack Hatch, D-Des Moines, Sen. Steve Sodders, D-State Center, House Minority Leader Mark Smith, D-Marshalltown, and Rep. Pat Murphy, D-Dubuque.
“The Legislature passed and the governor signed into law legislation that provides funding for the operation of the Iowa Juvenile Home in Toledo in both fiscal year 2014 and fiscal y 2015,” Homan said in a statement. “We believe it is unconstitutional and unlawful for the governor to close the Juvenile Home and disregard legislation that was passed by the Iowa House and Iowa Senate and signed into law by him.”
Last month, state officials issued layoff notices to 93 employees at the Iowa Juvenile Home and Girls State Training School effective Jan. 16 and announced plans to find alternative placements for the 21 youth currently served at the Toledo facility.
On Thursday, Branstad spokesman Jimmy Centers declined comment, saying “the governor’s office hasn’t seen the lawsuit referenced in the press release, so we’re unable to comment on it. Gov. Branstad remains committed to doing what is best for these vulnerable children.”
In making the announcement last month, DHS officials said the action regarding the Toledo facility was taken in the best interest of the minors being served at the state-run home. Palmer said the decision was based on recommendations from the Iowa Juvenile Home Protection Task Force, which was appointed by Branstad in August to define the mission of the home and explore other options for care. Palmer was a member of that task force.
“This was a difficult decision. After a thorough examination of the task force recommendations, we believe finding appropriate alternative placements is in the best interest of the youth,” Palmer said last month. “Serving these children in licensed and/or accredited settings was an important goal set by the governor and his task force, and we are moving quickly to ensure it is achieved.”
DHS officials indicated they determined that other state facilities and community-based, private providers could provide the treatment needs for both delinquent girls and children designated as in need of assistance. That would be accomplished in settings which receive matching federal funds to assist in providing services, according to the DHS statement.
Homan refuted the administration’s explanation on Thursday in announcing the legal action taken by the union that represents many of the employees at the Iowa Juvenile Home in Toledo.
“Throughout Gov. Branstad’s time in office, he has demonstrated a pattern of blaming others for his decisions,” Homan said in his statement. “He has refused to accept responsibility for the mismanagement of the Iowa Juvenile Home by his managers. He has tried to claim that the decision to close the home was a result of the Iowa Juvenile Home Protection Task Force’s recommendations. However, the task force’s report contains no such recommendation to close the Juvenile Home.
“Over the past few weeks, the public has heard many testimonials from girls who resided at the Iowa Juvenile Home,” the AFSCME president added. “These testimonials show how the staff of the Juvenile Home has made a positive difference in the lives of countless troubled Iowa youth. This lawsuit will hopefully allow the staff to be able to continue to carry on this important mission.”
At full capacity, the Iowa Juvenile Home could serve 57 youth ages 12 to 18 by employing a staff of 114 using $10.5 million in state general funds in the current fiscal year.
“I joined this effort because Gov. Branstad is abandoning Iowa children in need of serious help,” Sodders said in a statement. “I hope it will provide an objective, public review of Gov. Branstad’s mismanagement of the Iowa Juvenile Home. For many years, the state of Iowa has invested in providing care for children who can’t be helped elsewhere. The goal of this lawsuit is to stop Gov. Branstad’s shameful attempt to abandon that responsibility.”