There is a misperception among elected officials that Iowans don’t need to know the specifics of what’s being done in their name, or on their dime. The sentiment clearly manifests in secretly-concocted public policy changes, as well as in redacted government reports that shield elected officials from public scrutiny.
This week the sentiment was less obvious, but nonetheless present in the abrupt ouster of Dave Jamison, the appointed director of the Iowa Finance Authority.
Gov. Kim Reynolds, in consultation with legal counsel and key agency officials, made the decision to fire Jamison on Saturday for “credible allegations” of sexual harassment received by her chief of staff a day earlier.
“As I’ve said time and time again, my administration has a zero-tolerance policy regarding sexual harassment,” Reynolds told reporters, but otherwise provided no details on the alleged incidents.
“At the request of the victims and to protect their privacy and their identity, there is only so much I can say.”
Sexual harassment is a serious problem, which deserves serious and swift response. But as much as we’d like to praise Gov. Reynolds for providing more than lip service to a nebulous executive branch policy, too many questions remain.
How many people made allegations against Jamison? Were these recent incidents? How did the Governor and her team determine credibility? Did other state workers turn a blind eye to inappropriate comments or actions, or make excuses? Were complaints reviewed by law enforcement?
Are Iowa taxpayers staring down the barrel of another costly lawsuit?
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Maintaining the privacy of victims is a laudable goal that must be balanced against the public’s interest in knowing that complaints are handled appropriately.
Reynolds says Jamison served at the pleasure of her office and could be released for no reason whatsoever. That’s true, but it raises the question of why the Governor chose to provide any reason for his departure.
Sexual harassment is a term used to describe inappropriate sexual innuendo, brutal predatory behavior and a multitude of offenses between those two extremes. The two words alone provide no clarity into specific transgressions, which Iowans and Jamison’s potential future employers should have opportunity judge on their merits.
Senate Republicans chose to protect their members accused of sexual harassment during an internal investigation. Reynolds hasn’t called for disclosure.
The Legislative majority, as well as the former executive branch, has drastically altered the lives of thousands of Iowans through public policy changes developed behind closed doors and, at times, enacted through unilateral edict. Reynolds hasn’t demanded transparency or accountability.
Although labeling one state official as some sort of creep and subsequently firing him for it is insignificant in comparison, it’s also one more check mark in the government secrecy column.
There is no debate that these decisions are Reynolds’ to make. Even so, the ramifications are Iowans’ to bear.
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