DES MOINES — While state agencies’ budgets generally will be status quo, their leadership ranks won’t be as several top administrators announced Monday they won’t be part of Gov. Kim Reynolds’ new administration.
The heads of Iowa’s prison system, public safety agency and civil rights commission indicated they would leave state government within the next month, and the longtime director of the state economic development authority was vague about her plans.
“It’s a continuing saga, stay tuned,” said Debi Durham when asked about her future as director of the Economic Development Authority since 2011. “Obviously, the governor is putting together her team so I would think sooner than later, perhaps by the end of the year, we’ll know something.
“I am flattered to serve, but we’ll see,” said Durham when asked if she would stay on if the governor asked. “There are a lot of things to consider. One is that I still live in Sioux City.”
Reynolds, who ascended to the governorship last year after Terry Branstad left to join the Trump administration, was elected in November to a four-year term. Those who have announced their departures were appointed during the Branstad years.
Monday, Reynolds wrapped up fiscal 2020 and 2021 budget hearings in advance of proposing a budget next month to the Iowa Legislature.
Public Safety Commissioner Roxann Ryan said her decision to leave her post of the past four years effective Jan. 2 is difficult because she sought the assignment as part of her 36-year career in state government.
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“It’s very hard to say goodbye to them, but at the same time I have aging parents and young grandkids and this is truly a 24/7 type of job, so getting away is a very difficult thing to do,” Ryan told reporters.
Col. Jeff Ritzman, the chief and 16th colonel of the 380-member Iowa State Patrol, announced he will retire Jan. 2 after 36 years in the patrol.
Ryan submitted a status-quo public safety budget request for the next two fiscal years of $103.3 million annually in state money. But she noted that over the next 10 years, “almost half” of the department’s sworn officers will be eligible to retire — meaning the agency will lose experience but “people that we bring in are a whole lot cheaper than the people who are going out.”
“That makes a big difference,” she said. “Asking for a status-quo budget does not mean a reduction in staff; it may mean a reduction in average age.”
Likewise, Jerry Bartruff, 68, who said he will step down as Iowa Department of Corrections director effective Dec. 27, said the nearly $381.8 million status-quo request he made for each of the next two fiscal years requires the agency to “manage our money as effectively as we can.”
“We’re having more people being released to parole supervision, and people on parole typically are higher risk than people that are supervised on probation in the community, so we’re seeing an increase in the number of higher-risk people going back into the community,” he said.
Bartruff said prison officials work to maintain minimum staffing levels by filling vacancies with counselors and treatment experts to make the best use of available resources. He noted his department received an extra $4.1 million for the current fiscal year and hoped a similar supplement would be approved by the governor and Legislature if extra funds are identified in the budget process next session.
“In Corrections, it’s not always good news,” Bartruff told the governor during his budget presentation. “We’ve had attacks on staff, we’ve had attacks on other incarcerated persons, we’ve had contraband in our facilities, we’ve had people on parole that absconded or committed other crimes, and a rising prison population.”
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He said the nature of corrections is dealing with those kinds of situations, adding “we’re starting to see some good trends. I can never say that we’re not going to have any assaults or incidents like this but as long as I can see the needle moving closer to zero I think we’re doing our job.”
One director who did not offer a status-quo budget request was Jerry Foxhoven, head of the Department of Human Services, whose budget projected a need to increase Medicaid funding by about $102 million over the two fiscal years.
The budget also called for a spike in funding needed for children’s health insurance programs, but agency officials did not provide explanations for any of the numbers presented.
Overall, Human Services officials requested a $43.6 million increase for fiscal 2020 of $1.826 billion in state funding to begin July 1, and a $95.2 million increase for fiscal 2021 of $1.921 billion.
Foxhoven declined to talk with reporters afterward and his staff was unable to provide explanations for the requests.
After her budget presentation Monday, Kristin Johnson told reporters that “I just submitted my resignation” as head of the Iowa State Civil Rights Commission effective Jan. 2 when the term she assumed in May 2015 ends. Johnson told reporters she would have to consider her options if the governor asked her to stay on in the position.
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