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Health

Report: Governor's staff asked Jerry Foxhoven to do something 'illegal'

Former Iowa Human Services leader made news for admiration of Tupac Shakur

Jerry Foxhoven, then-director of the Iowa Department of Human Services, addresses members of the Council on Human Services at the Hoover State Office Building in Des Moines on Wednesday, June 13, 2018. (Rebecca F. Miller/The Gazette)
Jerry Foxhoven, then-director of the Iowa Department of Human Services, addresses members of the Council on Human Services at the Hoover State Office Building in Des Moines on Wednesday, June 13, 2018. (Rebecca F. Miller/The Gazette)
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Former Iowa Department of Human Services Director Jerry Foxhoven said he was ousted from his job last month after the governor’s staff asked him to do something he considered illegal, according to reports published Friday.

“Her staff asked me to do something I thought was illegal, and so I wouldn’t do it,” Foxhoven said in an interview with a reporter for Pitchfork, a national music publication. “And so they said, ‘Okay well then you need to go.’”

Foxhoven has not responded to several requests from The Gazette about his forced resignation from a job he held for two years atop the state agency that oversees the Medicaid and child welfare programs among others.

Foxhoven’s statement was first published Friday by Iowa Public Radio, which stated it had received a recording of the interview from Pitchfork. The Des Moines Register reported that Pitchfork reporter Marc Hogan said the comments were made Thursday in a Des Moines coffee shop.

Pat Garrett, Communications Director for the governor’s office, responded late Friday.

“We have no idea what former Director Foxhoven is referring to,” Garrett said. “He never raised a concern like that to us.”

Foxhoven suddenly was asked to resign in June by Gov. Kim Reynolds — who had appointed him to the job in the first place — with little explanation.

State Rep. Ruth Ann Gaines, D-Des Moines, called Friday for hearings over Foxhoven’s dismissal.

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“For weeks, the Reynolds administration has been hiding the reason for Jerry Foxhoven’s forced resignation and now we may know why,” Gaines said in a statement. “As Ranking Member of the House Oversight Committee, I am calling for immediate hearings of the House Oversight Committee at the State Capitol to hear directly from former Director Foxhoven about the serious allegations he made today.”

His abrupt departure made national news this week after a report from the Associated Press, which speculated his resignation may have been related to an email he sent to his staff 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 ouster celebrating late rapper Tupac Shakur’s birthday. It also included an inspirational quote from the rapper, who was fatally shot in 1996.

The late rapper often was a topic of Foxhoven’s emails, as he held up the rapper’s lyrics as inspirational to the department’s mission.

At the time of Foxhoven’s departure, Reynolds said she requested his resignation to take the department “in a new direction,” but has not clarified what that new direction might be.

“As the Governor has said, a lot of factors contributed to the resignation of Jerry Foxhoven,” said Pat Garrett, spokesman for the Governor’s Office, in an emailed statement. “Of course Tupac was not one of them. Gov. Reynolds is looking forward to taking (the Department of Human Services) in a new direction.”

Foxhoven told Pitchfork he doesn’t believe his emails about Tupac were a factor in his resignation. However, he declined to elaborate on what he was asked to do that he considered improper, according to the published reports.

Foxhoven, a former Drake Law professor, was well-known as a child welfare advocate across the country, said Maureen Flatley, a longtime friend of Foxhoven’s and a national advocate who consults with agencies and members of Congress on child welfare.

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Iowa “had one of the best minds in child welfare in America today,” Flatley said in an interview with The Gazette on Friday. “Any state in the union would be so lucky to have that man run their system because there’s nobody who combines more perspective and experience with his level of integrity.”

She said she knows Foxhoven as someone who would rather walk away than implement a policy that he thought improper or dangerous to others.

“He’s not a yes man,” Flatley said. “He’s willing to walk away from something rather than do something immoral.”

Foxhoven’s emails referring to Tupac show his authenticity and effort to lift the morale of his staff, Flatley said. By doing so, she said he did something “that few administrators do” — that is, wrap his arms around an underfunded, overworked staff.

“For someone at his level to take the time and exhibit the empathy he exhibited, it speaks volume about the level of detail and knowledge he had of the system,” Flatley said. “You cannot keep kids safe with demoralized staff.”

According to his emails, staff reacted mostly positively to his messages. Foxhoven regularly held “Tupac Friday,” and staff members gifted the former director with Tupac-themed baked goods for his birthday,

One staff member did allude to an individual who may not have been a fan of the Tupac love, apparently having forwarded an email to a state legislator. But Foxhoven wrote in another email that “I am going to hang in there on him — despite all the naysayers.”

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

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