Branstad fires DAS Director Mike Carroll

Last week Mike Carroll denied the department paid laid-off employees “hush money”

Rod Boshart
Published: April 8 2014 | 4:20 pm - Updated: 8 April 2014 | 10:14 pm in Front Rotator,

DES MOINES — Gov. Terry Branstad fired Mike Carroll as director of the state Department of Administrative Services on Tuesday just hours after evidence surfaced that Carroll lied when he told lawmakers last week that no “hush money” was paid to ex-state workers.

“Director Carroll told me that employees were not paid an additional amount in exchange for confidentiality provisions. In light of recent developments, I learned the information presented to me by Director Carroll was not accurate,” Branstad said in a statement.

“I am deeply troubled and disappointed by this. As I stated at my press conference Monday, if I learned of new information there would be harsh consequences,” he added. “I terminated Director Carroll today because new facts directly contradict what he told me and what he stated before the Government Oversight Committee. This is unacceptable.”

Carroll’s termination was effective immediately. Branstad named Janet Phipps to serve as interim director at DAS.

Sen. Janet Petersen, D-Des Moines, said Tuesday that Carol Frank, a DAS senior construction design engineer who was laid off, provided documents to her and Rep. Kevin Koester, R-Ankeny, co-leaders of the Legislature’s Government Oversight Committee, from Frank’s attorney that prove Frank was offered “hush money” by the Branstad administration.

The documents include emails between DAS top officials and Frank’s attorney in which she is offered an additional $6,500 if she would sign non-disclosure clauses, Petersen said.

“Ms. Frank accepts your offer to add the confidentiality provision for an additional $6,500,” attorney Luke DeSmet says in a March 7, 2013, email to former DAS legal counsel Ryan Lamb. Documents detailed two settlement agreements with Frank, one for $70,826 and a revised version with a $77,326 payout.

Frank, one of 10 DAS employees fired in 2011, testified last week that she settled for $5,000 to keep quiet about the dismissal. Carroll testified at an Oversight Committee meeting the next day that “disgruntled” employees lied about the nature of the payments.

Carroll in his testimony denied his agency paid laid-off employees “hush money” to keep secret their settlements or broke any laws in executing confidentiality agreements that ran afoul of Branstad’s goals of open and transparent government.

Carroll told Oversight Committee members that he “made a mistake” by allowing confidentiality clauses to be included in employment settlement agreements. He apologized that the provisions — although legal — did not comply with the governor’s transparent government initiatives and pledged “it will not happen again.”

“Confidentiality provisions in personnel settlements should have never been used,” Branstad said in his statement Tuesday. “The use of such provisions was wrong. Taxpayer dollars should have never been used in relation to confidentiality provisions.

“The citizens of Iowa deserve a government as open and honest as them. Confidentiality provisions run contrary to my priority of an open and transparent government,” he added.

DOCUMENTS RELEASED

Included in the documents released Tuesday is a Request for Proposals the state issued in late summer 2011 seeking construction management/consulting firms to work with DAS.

The documents show Carroll wanted to fire 10 facilities and construction management employees in 2011 so he could replace them with independent contractors.

“Construction management companies have the staff, technology and training that enable them to push construction projects to be completed on time and on budget,” DAS Director Mike Carroll wrote in an August 2011 layoff plan.

Carroll estimated the reorganization would save $400,000. Gov. Terry Branstad’s office signed off on the plan Aug. 18, 2011.

In the documents, Carroll criticized parts of his agency involved with architecture and engineering, lease and space management, vertical infrastructure program and mechanical & electrical/automation.

“These areas ... are not operating effectively/efficiently from a human equity, budgetary and scheduling standpoint,” he wrote.

BRANSTAD DENIES KNOWLEDGE

Branstad has said he did not know that 24 confidential settlements — 10 with lump-sum payments — had been signed with dismissed state workers since January 2011 until the practice came to light in a newspaper story. In response, Branstad issued an executive order to bar confidential employee settlements going forward.

During floor debate Tuesday on an infrastructure funding bill, senators voted 26-23 along party lines to de-appropriate $22 million in DAS money to be used for routine maintenance of state buildings and facilities.

Sen. Matt McCoy, D- Des Moines, who proposed the amendment, said the DAS officials have not provided information requested by lawmakers and that withholding agency funding was the appropriate action.

“We have little or no confidence in the director of the Department of Administrative Services and we believe the only appropriate thing to do at this time is to withhold this money until such time as there are changes or information is forthcoming,” McCoy said.

LAWMAKER SEEKS FOLLOW-UP STEPS

Shortly after Carroll’s firing, Petersen issued a statement calling on the governor to put other top DAS officials on leave, enlist state law officers to immediately secure evidence and to hire an independent interim director “whose credibility is unquestioned.” She said the action was needed for Branstad to regain control of his administration and the confidence of the Iowa taxpayers.

Petersen asked Branstad to have the Iowa State Patrol immediately secure the paper and electronic records relevant to the secret settlements issues so they are not destroyed or modified. She asked the governor to place Doug Woodley, DAS general services enterprise chief operating officer, and Paul Carlson, DAS chief resource maximization officer, on unpaid administrative leave until the full extent of their involvement in the matters can be determined.

“It goes without saying that the governor’s internal investigation, conducted by his top advisors, failed to provide Iowans with the truth,” she said.

l Gazette reporters Erin Jordan and Alison Sullivan contributed to this report. Comments: (515) 243-7220; rod.boshart@sourcemedia.net

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