BREAKING NEWS

Governor appoints new Iowa Department of Human Services director to replace Jerry Foxhoven

Kelly Kennedy Garcia, Texas human services official, to take over Nov. 1

Kelly Kennedy Garcia, new Iowa DHS director
Kelly Kennedy Garcia, new Iowa DHS director
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Gov. Kim Reynolds has appointed a Texas human services official as the new director of the Iowa Department of Human Services.

Kelly Kennedy Garcia, a current deputy executive commissioner for the Texas Health and Human Services Commission, will begin her role as department head on Nov. 1, the governor’s office said Thursday.

Garcia steps in for Jerry Foxhoven, who was asked to resign from the post by Reynolds in June.

Garcia’s appointment is subject to confirmation by the Iowa Senate.

“This is a really important agency. It impacts a lot of people in Iowa so we really want to get top talent in there and I believe she’s the right person to really take DHS to the next level,” Reynolds said to reporters Thursday.

“I have a lot of confidence in her. I’m excited about her coming into the state and what she’s potentially going to be able to do with the department.”

The Department of Human Services, one of the state’s largest departments, has a federally supported annual budget of $6.5 billion and a workforce of about 4,600. The agency oversees the state’s Medicaid program, foster care system and behavioral and mental health programs, among others.

Garcia’s annual starting salary will be $154,300, with a $50,000 retention bonus, said Pat Garrett, governor’s office spokesman.

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In her current role as deputy executive commissioner, she oversees Texas’ Health, Developmental and Independence Services Department, which has a $1.4 billion annual budget and more than 700 employees.

“She brings a lot of experience to the table,” Reynolds told reporters Thursday. “She’s known really for her organizational skills, for looking for ways to bring efficiencies to the department, she’s worked on policy — so she just hit on a lot of the areas that I think will be really advantageous for the department.”

Garcia has held this post since May, but has worked for the Texas Health and Human Services Commission since 2013.

She previously been the director of government and stakeholder relations and the director of operations and policy for the medical and social services division within the Health and Human Services Commission.

Garcia was paid $195,000, according to a database from the Texas Tribune.

She joined the Texas Health and Human Services Commission after 15 years with the Texas state government. She was a senior adviser to Gov. Rick Perry as well as manager and senior analyst at the Texas Sunset Advisory Commission.

Garcia has a bachelor’s degree in government from the University of Texas at Austin and a master’s degree in public service and administration from Texas A&M University.

‘A new direction’

Reynolds indicated she would conduct a national search for Foxhoven’s replacement — a search that brought in nearly 40 applicants from other states, she told reporters.

Iowa Department of Public Health Director Gerd Clabaugh has been serving as interim director of the human services department since Foxhoven’s departure.

Reynolds previously said she asked for Foxhoven’s resignation in June because she wanted to take the department “in a new direction.” She did not specify what that new direction might be on Thursday.

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“I’m not looking backward, I’m looking forward,” Reynolds said. “I don’t believe the agency is where it should be. I think there are opportunities for us to do things better. I think we can do more, I think we can do better.”

Foxhoven — who was appointed by Reynolds and held the post for two years — since has filed a complaint against the state seeking $2 million for wrongful dismissal.

According to documents filed with the State Appeals Board, Foxhoven stated he was dismissed by Reynolds and members of her staff to prevent him from disclosing information he believed was illegal.

Foxhoven said Reynolds asked the Department of Human Services to continue funding a staff position within the governor’s office. The staffer, Paige Thorson, previously had worked within the agency, but since has taken a role as deputy chief of staff.

Funding for the position previously had been approved by Foxhoven for fiscal years 2018 and 2019, but the former director said he believed Thorson no longer was furthering the department’s interests.

However, before he could get an opinion on the request from the Iowa Attorney General’s Office, Foxhoven claimed Reynolds’ staff asked his resignation.

Reynolds has maintained denial of Foxhoven’s version of events, saying that the former director never raised concerns with her or her staff.

“As I have consistently shared with Iowans, many factors went into my decision to ask for Jerry Foxhoven’s resignation,” Reynolds said in a statement at the time Foxhoven filed the complaint. “My focus remains on the many Iowans that DHS serves, and I am committed to selecting a new director who will take this agency to the next level.”

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Foxhoven was paid $154,300 in fiscal 2018, state records show.

‘Ambitious goals’

In a statement, Reynolds said Garcia’s experience “will make her an effective leader.”

“To meet the ambitious goals Gov. Reynolds has set out for serving Iowa’s most vulnerable populations, it’s going to take a strong team effort at DHS and throughout the state,” Garcia said in the news release.

“I look forward to hitting the ground running and building relationships within our own team and across the state to help Iowa families succeed.”

Senate Democratic Leader Janet Petersen issued a statement Thursday critical of Reynolds, saying it was time for the governor to share her “ambitious goals” with Iowans.

“The Reynolds Administration has been working behind closed doors on a ‘new direction’ for the department for nearly a year,” Petersen said in the statement. “Yet Gov. Reynolds has continued to keep Iowans in the dark about what to expect.”

Rep. Ruth Ann Gaines, D-Des Moines, issued a similar statement, adding the biggest job Garcia will take on as director is “fixing the turmoil that Iowans continue to face in our health care system due to an ill-conceived Medicaid privatization plan.”

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

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