DES MOINES – An Iowa state senator wants federal investigators to look at abuse of power allegations he’s leveled at a top state director.
Sen. Bill Dotzler, D-Waterloo, claims Iowa Workforce Development Director Teresa Wahlert is trying illegally to exert influence over administrative law judges who decide unemployment cases.
During a Statehouse news conference at which he released copies of emails and related stories of his interviews with Workforce Development employees, Dotzler said Wahlert had the judges develop “tip sheets” for employers to help them win their cases and asked for tallies of how judges decided their cases.
She did this, Dotzler said, after she fired the former chief administrative law judge and made the 14 other judges in the department report to her.
“I believe we have some of the best administrative law judges in the country,” he said. “I’m serving notice to the director to leave them alone.”
Wahlert did not respond to an interview request made through her communications staff Wednesday. Her office did, however, release a statement saying that her office just received a positive report from a routine inquiry on its unemployment appeals process.
“U.S. (Department of Labor) completed a three-day visit last week and will be releasing a report that does not contain any negative findings, a first in a number of years,” Wahlert said in the statement. “The department expects to be released from the corrective action plan that was in place from the previous administration.”
The regional U.S. Department of Labor office in Chicago could not immediately provide a copy of the report or contact information for the team that did the on-site visit.
Administrative law judges are federally funded positions. That is why Dotzler has asked the federal department to investigate. He also called on the director to resign.
“Sen. Dotzler's engagement in Washington, D.C.-style partisan attacks has no place in Iowa,” said Jimmy Centers, a spokesman for Gov. Terry Branstad. “The taxpayers expect their elected leaders to work in a bipartisan fashion to pass meaningful legislation, not engage in Senate Democrats' petty political theater.”