So I'm back from spring break, sunburned, frazzled and in need of a vacation. But we had a swell time in the Sunshine State. Didn't have to stand my ground even once.
Now I'm trying to catch up with some of the various doings I missed. Big doings in Des Moines, apparently.
Gov. Terry Branstad arrived home from his own spring break in Arizona to deal with all the political heat generated by a big 'ol Des Moines Register report on six secret settlements paid to several state employees who lost their jobs. Some of those folks claim confidentiality was deployed to cover up the political motives behind their firings. That's frowned upon under state employment rules.
But hey, at least it's a dry heat.
And wait, that's not all. Branstad also had to deal with charges that his workforce development director, Teresa Wahlert, pressured administrative law judges in her department to tilt unemployment appeal cases in favor of employers against workers. Democratic lawmakers are now demanding some investigating.
I tuned into the governor's big news conference this morning to hear his take. It was good theater.
Branstad played the incensed, exasperated chief executive who took responsibility but said he had absolutely no knowledge of his underlings' misdeeds. He only knows what he reads in the papers.
And the papers didn't know the half of it. Turns out there were 24 settlements worth more than $400,000 that included confidentiality clauses designed to keep them under wraps.
"It is unacceptable," said Branstad, who, did, however, accept the explanations offered up by the bureaucrats who negotiated and signed off on those settlements.
"Iowans expect more from their government." he said. But no one involved will be punished or lose their job. About what you'd expect.
"If this happens again, there're going to be heads rolling," Branstad said, while issuing an executive order barring future secret settlements. From now on!
The mulligans stop here.
Branstad said confidentiality agreements like this fly in the face of the very core values of his administration, including a ceaseless commitment to transparency. Then, Department of Management Director David Roederer shared the findings of an investigation into the matter, conducted behind closed doors. The closed probe into secret payments was handled by Roederer, a longtime Branstad ally, the governor's legal counsel, Brenna Findley, and Chief of Staff Matt Hinch.
So, top politician, and your investigative team made up of top advisors, was this a cover up of politically motivated firings that goes all the way to the top?
"It had nothing to do with politics," Branstad said. What a relief. Glad that's settled.
Also, to those who say Wahlert had her thumb on the scales of administrative unemployment justice, the governor says poppycock. Politically-motivated poppycock to boot. We're not even going to honor those accusations with an in-depth closed investigation by my inner circle.
I'm glad the governor issued his order, and disclosed the additional settlements. But accountability for what already happened is sorely lacking. There should be consequences for this sort of thing beyond a stern talking to on the executive carpet. We also need independent investigations into this stuff.