Staff Columnist

Redacted sexual harassment complaint reveals gaps

(File photo) Gov. Kim Reynolds speaks during the swearing in ceremony for Kim Reynolds to become the 43rd Governor of Iowa at the Iowa State Capitol in Des Moines on Wednesday, May. 24, 2017. (Stephen Mally/The Gazette)
(File photo) Gov. Kim Reynolds speaks during the swearing in ceremony for Kim Reynolds to become the 43rd Governor of Iowa at the Iowa State Capitol in Des Moines on Wednesday, May. 24, 2017. (Stephen Mally/The Gazette)

In releasing a redacted document by an Iowa Finance Authority employee detailing years of sexual harassment, Gov. Kim Reynolds described the alleged behavior by former director Dave Jamison as “disgusting” and “abhorrent.” She was right.

I hope anyone who had doubts about Reynolds’ swift action to terminate Jamison’s employment is no longer wondering if the action was appropriate. Like so many of these types of situations, the question that remains is why it didn’t happen sooner. To that end, there will, without a doubt, be more scrutiny of the situation.

It’s legitimate for the public to question why others in the office who became aware of inappropriate behavior didn’t do more to stop it. It’s logical to wonder what more may exist, and natural to want to protect other state workers. It’s important to understand why those targeted by Jamison didn’t feel comfortable reporting the harassment within existing channels; a systemic failure that must be corrected.

We all owe a debt of thanks to the employee who wrote the letter and, presumably, others who found the courage to come forward. Because of their continued bravery, other state workers and potential future employers know Jamison’s shortcomings and can protect themselves.

We also must thank Reynolds and her staff for doing what had to be done. We can quibble about the lack of transparency surrounding the decision to terminate Jamison, but should not allow such process disagreements to overshadow the fact that a long-standing professional relationship with an agency head wasn’t allowed to temper Reynolds’ actions. She acted appropriately and decisively and, I believe, with the interests of the victims at heart.

Sadly, the same cannot be said of other Iowa leaders who faced similar situations. More important, the state has not developed necessary checks and balances that provide victims a clear path forward.

While discussing the scourge of state-level sexual harassment that has made recent headlines, Reynolds has noted that she does not have the ability to regulate morality. True enough. But she cannot allow that limitation to block the public actions she can take to further curtail the toxic culture that exists in government.

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Investigation as to why other employees at the Iowa Finance Authority didn’t escalate complaints when their cautions to Jamison went unheeded must be launched, if they haven’t been.* And while most Iowans can appreciate Reynolds’ desire to protect victims from further harm, that desire cannot be used as a buffer against a fully transparent review. How much different would this incident have played out if the governor’s office had made a more transparent statement regarding Jamison’s dismissal, offering discovered facts about his behavior that did not endanger victims’ privacy?

Whether it is state lawmakers making juvenile jokes about female breasts during debate of mammogram legislation, or an agency head repeatedly making unwanted and unsolicited sexual advances on an employee, Iowans need to know what they’re up against and who is behaving badly.

• Comments: @LyndaIowa, (319) 368-8513, lynda.waddington@thegazette.com

* Author’s note: Gov. Kim Reynolds announced an independent review of the Iowa Finance Authority late Friday, April 27. Des Moines attorney Mark Weinhardt will lead the investigation, according to a news release, and submit a report to Iowa Attorney General Tom Miller and Reynolds.

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