Seven years after leaving the governor’s office, Gov. Tom Vilsack can’t recall approving any settlements with Iowa state employees involving “hush money” to prevent them from talking about their terminations.
Vilsack, now USDA secretary, also said Friday that Gov. Terry Branstad “made the right call in basically saying no more of this” after there were news reports that state employees who were removed from their jobs were offered payments not to keep quiet.
Vilsack made his comments during taping of Iowa Press, which airs tonight at 7:30 p.m. on Iowa Public Television. It also can be seen at 8:30 a.m. Saturday on IPTV World and at noon Sunday on IPTV, and will be available at www.iptv.org this evening.
Asked about testimony Thursday by the Department of Administrative Services director that at least five confidentiality agreements dating back to the Vilsack administration had been found, Vilsack said if that happened “It’s not something that I was aware of.”
“The folks who I trust to know about this have indicated that they were unaware of any such settlements,” Vilsack said. “So it may very well be that there were, but I’m not convinced yet that they are.”
It’s possible, Vilsack said, that depending on how “state employee” is defined, there may have confidentiality clauses in settlements in which litigation may have been settled and confidentiality was requested by a plaintiff.
“It could have been a malpractice case involving the University of Iowa Hospitals and Clinics,” he said. “I just don’t know.”
However, legislators are right to pursue their Government Oversight Committee investigation into the secret settlements. If they were used, Vilsack said, lawmakers need to determine why the money was paid and why people were paid to keep quiet.
It’s also important to determine whether there has been any erosion of the merit system, “which, obviously, I think is an important consideration for the public in terms of who works for state government,” Vilsack said.
He seemed doubtful about the value of spending state resources on looking for confidential agreements in 45 boxes of documents from his eight-year administration.
“I think the focus needs to be on the future,” Vilsack said.