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Former Iowa DHS director Foxhoven called agreement to fund governor staff position 'illegal'

Practice is legal, say Attorney General, Governor's Office

Department of Human Services Director Jerry Foxhoven discusses his plans for guiding one of the largest state agencies, on his first day on the job, in June 2017. (Rod Boshart/The Gazette)
Department of Human Services Director Jerry Foxhoven discusses his plans for guiding one of the largest state agencies, on his first day on the job, in June 2017. (Rod Boshart/The Gazette)

The former head of the Iowa Department of Human Services said he thought the department’s funding of a health care policy adviser’s salary for the Governor’s Office could be illegal.

But before he had time to consult with the Attorney General’s Office, Jerry Foxhoven was asked to resign.

The funding action, however, is not illegal, says the Governor’s Office. In fact, the practice is common place, and one the former director had agreed to in the past.

On Wednesday, Jerry Foxhoven — who suddenly was asked to resign as director by Gov. Kim Reynolds last month — told on the Associated Press Wednesday he objected to an agreement in which the Department of Human Services would continue paying the salary of a former department employee who had been hired as a health care adviser for the governor.

In an email to The Gazette Wednesday afternoon, Foxhoven confirmed the Associated Press report, adding he thought the arrangement was illegal and wanted an opinion from the Attorney General’s Office before agreeing to it.

“I was concerned about the legality of using Department of Human Service funds to pay the salaries of the Governor’s staff,” Foxhoven wrote. “I wanted an opinion about the legality of this from the Attorney General’s Office before I would act on the Governor’s office request. I was asked to step down before I could ask for that legal opinion.”

Pat Garrett, spokesman for the Governor’s Office, said Wednesday Foxhoven had never raised concern about the pay arrangement before offering his resignation. Garrett said the former director also didn’t raise concerns before signing three similar agreements in 2017 and 2018.

These documents were released to The Gazette by the Governor’s Office Wednesday.

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“The governor’s staff are heavily involved in the day-to-day operations of our state agencies to improve coordination, communication and execution of shared goals to better serve Iowans,” Garrett said. “This has been a long-standing practice of previous administrations dating back to Gov. (Tom) Vilsack.”

Lynn Hicks, a spokesman for the Attorney General’s Office, said Wednesday that it’s common for state agencies to enter into memorandum of understandings to “collaborate and cover salaries.”

It’s legal, he added, and another provision in law would take precedence.

Foxhoven did not respond to The Gazette’s questions on previous agreements he had signed.

A memorandum of understanding between the governor’s office and the department of human services regarding the health policy adviser’s salary was signed on June 19 — two days after Foxhoven was asked to resign. Foxhoven’s name on the document was crossed out and replaced with Gerd Clabaugh, the interim department director.

Clabaugh signed the document, along with the governor’s Chief of Staff Sara Craig.

The agreement stated the department would pay the salary and benefits of Elizabeth Matney, the new health policy adviser, from May 17 to the end of the fiscal year, on June 30, 2019. Her salary was listed as $122,532 for the 2019 fiscal year.

Garrett said the memorandum was never presented to Foxhoven.

Documents provided by the Governor’s Office also indicated these agreements also were made under former governors Terry Branstad and Chet Culver, as well as Vilsack.

Foxhoven was asked to resign by Reynolds on June 17. She told reporters days after his departure that many factors went into her decision and that she planned to take the department “in a new direction.”

On Friday, June 19, Iowa Public Radio reported Foxhoven told a national music publication that he was 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.’”

At the time, he declined to elaborate on what it was he had considered illegal.

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On Monday, Foxhoven told The Gazette he had spoken to a special agent of the Office of Inspector General of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services regarding the circumstances of his departure, and agreed to participate in an interview with State Auditor Rob Sand.

Foxhoven oversaw a state agency that handles the Medicaid and child welfare programs, among others, for two years.

His resignation caught national media attention after the Associated Press reported on an email Foxhoven sent just days before he left referring to Tupac Shakur.

According to emails since obtained by The Gazette, Foxhoven emailed 4,000 Human Services employees on the Friday before his departure celebrating late rapper’s birthday.

l Comments: (319) 368-8536; michaela.ramm@thegazette.com

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