Government

Gov. Kim Reynolds: 'A lot of factors' went into asking for DHS director's resignation

Jerry Foxhoven, Director of the Iowa Department of Human Services addresses members of the Council on Human Services in Des Moines on June 13, 2018. (Rebecca F. Miller/The Gazette)
Jerry Foxhoven, Director of the Iowa Department of Human Services addresses members of the Council on Human Services in Des Moines on June 13, 2018. (Rebecca F. Miller/The Gazette)

DES MOINES — Gov. Kim Reynolds on Wednesday declined to say whether disciplinary action or complaints played a role in her decision to ask for the resignation of the director of the Department of Human Services.

Reynolds earlier this week said she requested the resignation of Jerry Foxhoven, who had served in the role since June 2017, when he was appointed by Reynolds shortly after she became governor.

Reporters asked if Foxhoven’s resignation on Monday was related to disciplinary issues or complaints about his interactions with staff. Reynolds said only that “a lot of factors” went into her decision and that it is part of her ongoing work to appoint state agency heads who share her vision for a collaborative, efficient and effective state government.

“There are a lot of factors that went into that decision. I’m not going to get into them,” Reynolds said.

“Just take a look at what I’ve been doing. It’s very consistent with what I’ve been doing across all of the state agencies. So I’m excited about the team that we’re putting together.”

Reynolds said her decision to ask for Foxhoven’s resignation is not related to an ongoing lawsuit over the use of seclusion rooms at the state juvenile home for boys in Eldora. Foxhoven, as DHS director, is named as a defendant in the case.

Reynolds said she expects Medicaid director Mike Randol to remain, and that the state will conduct a national search for the next Human Services director.

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The governor was asked by reporters about Foxhoven’s resignation after a flood advisory board meeting Wednesday in Des Moines.

Randol declined to comment on Foxhoven’s resignation in an interview with The Gazette on Tuesday.

“My focus is the transition and ensuring we have appropriate access to services for our members come July 1,” Randol said. “That’s my primary focus and that’s what I’ve been doing.”

In a statement issued Tuesday, Reynolds said she requested Foxhoven’s resignation to take the department in “a new direction.” Asked Wednesday what that new direction would look like, Reynolds told reporters to “stay tuned.”

“There’s a lot of different things that we’re working on. We’ve got a lot of working groups that are talking about new initiatives that we want to do moving forward,” Reynolds said.

“It’s bringing new people in and really focusing on more continued collaboration across agency lines. That is really important to me.”

Reynolds compared her decision to ask for Foxhoven’s resignation to her recent appointments of Beth Skinner to the state corrections department and Helen Miller to the state parole board. She added she expects to make announcements regarding heads of the state’s administrative services and natural resources departments.

“I’m trying to put a team together,” Reynolds said. “I’ve been reshaping my team over the last several months so that I can follow through with the priorities that I’m working on for Iowans. That’s part of it.”

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Foxhoven, now 66, oversaw a $6.5 billion department that has been criticized for its role in Medicaid, foster care and state-run institutions. He was appointed by Reynolds in June 2017 and confirmed by state lawmakers to a four-year term.

He directed a workforce of some 4,600 that administers services that include food assistance, Medicaid, child welfare, mental health and disability services.

The department serves more than one million Iowans annually, including many of the state’s most vulnerable children, elderly and disabled.

State lawmakers from both major political parties this week have expressed concern with Foxhoven’s departure.

“I think the governor made a terrible decision,” Republican state legislator Bobby Kaufmann said on Tuesday. “Jerry Foxhoven is the best thing to happen to DHS in a generation.”

“This is not a Republican or Democratic issue,” U.S. Rep. Abby Finkenauer, D-Iowa, said in a statement. “This is about how we, as Iowans, treat our neighbors. I join state Sen. Janet Petersen in calling for a national search to fill this role with someone who will look out for ‘the most vulnerable’ Iowans.”

Gazette reporter Rod Boshart contributed to this report.

• Comments: (563) 383-2492, erin.murphy@lee.net; (319) 368-8536, michaela.ramm@thegazette.com

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