The former Department of Human Services director — ousted by Gov. Kim Reynolds without public explanation last month — said he has discussed his resignation with authorities, including with the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and the Iowa State Auditor.
In an email to The Gazette late Monday, Jerry Foxhoven said that, while he has not shared details of his departure publicly, he has been “completely open about what has happened with the appropriate authorities.”
Foxhoven in his email said he gave an interview to a special agent of the Office of Inspector General of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. He also has agreed to participate in an interview with State Auditor Rob Sand, and has spoken to a Republican House member a Republican Senator.
He did not name those lawmakers.
Foxhoven declined to provide further comment to The Gazette.
Foxhoven suddenly resigned as director of the Department of Human Services, at Reynolds’ request, on June 17. He told a reporter with Pitchfork, a national music publication, on Friday he had been forced out after Reynolds’ staff asked him to do something he considered illegal.
“Her staff asked me to do something I thought was illegal, and so I wouldn’t do it,” he told the reporter. “And so they said, ‘OK, well then you need to go.’”
Foxhoven declined to elaborate at the time, according to Iowa Public Radio, which first reported the statement.
Pat Garrett, spokesman for the Governor’s Office, on Friday denied knowledge of Foxhoven’s allegations.
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“We have no idea what former Director Foxhoven is referring to,” Garrett said in an email. “He never raised a concern like that to us.”
The State Auditor confirmed to The Gazette late Monday his office plans to investigate Foxhoven’s resignation and his statement that the Governor’s staff had asked him to do something illegal. Sand said that interview is yet to be scheduled.
“It’s pretty standard, whether it’s at a city or county, for us to investigate if someone said they were just fired due to a dispute on whether or not something was legal,” Sand said. “ ... Interviewing (Foxhoven) would be one part of getting an understanding of what is going on at the Governor’s Office.”
Also in his statement Monday, Foxhoven pushed back on a comment from House Speaker Linda Upmeyer, R-Clear Lake, who called his comments to the music publication “vague” and without any details.
Upmeyer made the statement on Monday in response to Democratic lawmakers’ calls for an Oversight Committee hearing on the former director’s allegations.
“I would not have our chairwoman of the Oversight Committee initiate an investigation when the former director has declined to elaborate,” Upmeyer said in a statement.
Senate Majority Leader Jack Whitver also stated a Government Oversight Committee on his side of the Statehouse, which was requested Monday by Democratic senators, would be “unnecessary.”
“Gov. Reynolds should select department directors to best implement her priorities as a result of the mandate given to her by the people of Iowa,” Whitver said in a statement. “I look forward to beginning the confirmation process next session with the individual the governor appoints to become the new director of DHS.”
Republican lawmakers rebuffed calls from Democratic members of the House and Senate Oversight Committees on Monday, which were made in light of Foxhoven’s comments last week.
Rep. Ruth Ann Gaines, D-Des Moines and ranking member of the House Oversight Committee, said Foxhoven’s statement, in addition to the lack of information from the governor’s office, makes Gaines believe “that maybe something is being hidden,” she said.
“If it’s not, tell us what happened,” Gaines said. “Tell us why you asked him to resign, that’s all we want to know. If you can’t come forward with that, then something’s awry that needs dealt with because Iowans have a right to know.
“We need to get to the bottom of what’s going on, so we can correct it.”
The Democratic lawmakers calling for interim oversight committee meetings referred to a 2017 law that requires the reason for the firing or resignation in lieu of termination of a public employee to be made public.
According to a statement from the Senate Democrats, when asked to be provided with documents related to Foxhoven’s ouster, Reynolds’ office said that “none exists.” Lawmakers also were told no documents existed on the “new direction” Reynolds planned to take the Department of Human Services.
Sen. Claire Celsi, D-West Des Moines, and Sen. Tony Bisignano, ranking member of the committee from Des Moines, released a statement Monday calling for a similar oversight hearing be scheduled by Senate leadership.
Celsi questioned why no documentation existed on this top-down review of the department.
“You’re telling me that there were a couple of months of meetings and no notes taken?” Celsi asked. “No emails sent? No schedules made? When you add it all up, they were either purposefully trying to deceive everybody by not putting anything in writing, or there is a paper trail and we’re just never going to get it.”
Sen. Bisignano also raised similar questions, stating he found it “hard to believe” that the director of one of the largest state agencies can be ousted with no records.
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“We’ve eliminated Tupac,” Bisignano said. “Now let’s move onto more of a viable reason.”
Foxhoven’s resignation caught the attention of national media outlets after an Associated Press report last week speculated his ouster may have been related to an email he sent just days before he left.
According to emails since obtained by The Gazette, Foxhoven emailed 4,000 Human Services employees on the Friday before his departure celebrating late rapper Tupac Shakur’s birthday.
Foxhoven, an avid fan of Tupac, used the rapper’s lyrics as inspiration to the departments’ mission. According to his emails, staff reacted mostly positively to his messages.
Foxhoven regularly held “Tupac Fridays,” and staff members gifted the former director with Tupac-themed baked goods for his birthday,
The late rapper was fatally shot in 1996.
After Foxhoven’s forced resignation. The Gazette filed a request under Iowa’s open records law with the Governor’s Office and with Human Services. In response to the request for about a month’s worth of email correspondence between Reynolds and Foxhoven, the Governor’s Office provided two messages — both dated more than a year earlier, and one with about four of its six pages blacked out. In response to a request for about a month’s worth of emails from Foxhoven to his staff, the department said it found 7,288 emails responsive to the request but estimated it would charge the newspaper $7,680 to review them and redact any exempt information. The Gazette has declined to pay the fee.
Foxhoven, a former Drake law professor, served for two years as the head of the state agency that oversees the Medicaid and child welfare programs among others.
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