DES MOINES (MCT) – Legislative Democrats turned up the heat on Gov. Terry Branstad and his administration Tuesday, demanding access to documents related to what they called “hush money” payouts made to former state employees to buy their silence.
Sen. Janet Petersen, D-Des Moines, chairwoman of the Iowa Senate’s Oversight Committee, said she has written a letter to Gov. Terry Branstad requesting “public documents related to secret settlement agreements with former state employees.”
Petersen said she is seeking copies of all signed, unsigned and proposed “settlement agreements” between any state agency and former employees since Jan. 14, 2011 – when Branstad’s fifth term began.
She also requested information on state department directors who requested such agreements and the names of persons who authorized the payments.
The request comes in the wake of a Des Moines Sunday Register report that more than $280,000 was paid out in six secret settlements to former state employees – many with Democratic ties — who were asked to sign confidentiality agreements about the settlements.
On Monday, Lt. Gov. Kim Reynolds told reporters she and Branstad were unaware of the secret agreements and payments.
Lt. Gov. Kim Reynolds said neither she nor Branstad knew of allegations regarding political firing and secret settlements involving state employees until the story appeared in the news.
On Sunday, the Register published the accounts of six former state workers who said they were fired for political reasons, given secret payments by the state and asked to sign confidentiality agreements to keep the settlements out of public view.
“We did not find out until yesterday,” Reynolds said when asked about her knowledge of the accusations Monday during the administration’s news conference. “We found it troubling when we learned about the confidentiality clauses, and we intend to put together a group that will perform a comprehensive review of the process.”
Branstad is vacationing in Arizona with his family this week.
In response to Petersen’s letter, Branstad spokesman Jimmy Centers issued a statement saying “A comprehensive review is underway to ensure the administration is adhering to the governor and lt. governor’s goal of efficient, effective and transparent government. Upon completion of the review, the findings and any actions will be made public.”
Sen. Jack Hatch, a Des Moines Democrat seeking to challenge Branstad in the November general election, released a statement Tuesday demanding the GOP governor and his administration be more forthcoming with information regarding the targeting of state employees based on their political affiliations and what he called the subsequent cover up.
“When the governor returns from his vacation, he needs to come clean,” Hatch said in a statement. “We don’t need another sham blue-ribbon committee handpicked by him to absolve him of wrong doing.
“We have seen these pretend investigations before with the Iowa Juvenile Home, the speeding incident, and the firing of Larry Hedlund,” Hatch added. “He knows what really happened to these employees and about the secret hush money that was paid. This was perpetrated by his hand-selected people.
“If he doesn’t know what happened, then it shows gross incompetence, reckless mismanagement, and a bureaucracy run amok that we have never seen before in this state,” Hatch charged. “No longer can the Governor once again claim that he knows nothing and that this isn’t his fault. He clearly has been in office for too long.”
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