Staff Columnist

Want details when officials are shown the door, Iowans? None of your business

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

The first rule of Fired Club is: You do not talk about Fired Club.

It’s flush with former captains of bureaucracy, department directors, school superintendents, police chiefs, coaches and others who held lofty public perches and made their living off other people’s taxes. They didn’t have to be fired to join Fired Club. An abrupt resignation will do. Parted ways, new directions and spending more time with family also suffice.

Why did they really join the Fired Club? Really? See rule No. 1, above. None of our business.

Case in point, former Iowa Department of Human Services Director Jerry Foxhoven. He resigned “at the request” of Gov. Kim Reynolds on June 17. The governor’s written statement barely mentioned him, instead praising his interim replacement, Gerd Clabaugh.

On June 18, a spokesman for Reynolds said the governor is taking the department in a “new direction” and that she has spent months assembling a new team to carry out “her vision.” Details? Nope.

On June 19, the governor declined to detail reasons for Foxhoven’s departure, saying only “a lot of factors” played into the decision. “I’m not going to go into them,” Reynolds said.

This week brings news that the governor’s office told the Des Moines Register there are no written records detailing why Foxhoven was shown the door. There are no “documented reasons or rationale.” Apparently, the new direction and vision are all tucked away in Reynolds’ mind. Foxhoven also is remaining silent.

One minute, the guy is leading a $6.5 billion state department with nearly 5,000 employees, managing everything from child abuse investigations to food assistance to Medicaid, critical services affecting hundreds of thousands of Iowans. The fate of Iowa’s privatized Medicaid program is hanging in the balance. The department is in the midst of legal action over the use of isolation and restraints at the Boys State Training School.

The next minute, his public career is abruptly privatized. And Iowans can only guess why. It’s all part of a grand plan. One that was, apparently, not written down.

Reynolds may be keeping Iowans in the dark, but she’s following rule No. 1 to the letter.

The law? Not so much.

ARTICLE CONTINUES BELOW ADVERTISEMENT

In 2017, then-Gov. Terry Branstad signed legislation that was supposed to make sure Iowans receive an explanation as to why public officials are shown the door. Reynolds was by his side. A victory for transparency and sunshine, we were told. At last, we were going to get those “documented reasons and rationales.”

Now, Reynolds is sidestepping the law. No documents, no dice.

But not new. Government at all levels is keeping its constituents out of the loop on unscheduled departures. Functionaries are doing all they can to throw up bureaucratic and legal barriers shielding the Fired Club and staving off any scrutiny of their own actions.

All they have to do is keep us in the dark until the storm blows over. Rumor, speculation and distrust fill the fact gap.

So maybe we’re not all that surprised when selfish motives for keeping up appearances trump the necessity of keeping the public informed. But it’s the sort of breach of trust that should make us angry. Fighting mad? Join the club.

l Comments: (319) 398-8262; todd.dorman@thegazette, com

Give us feedback

We value your trust and work hard to provide fair, accurate coverage. If you have found an error or omission in our reporting, tell us here.

Or if you have a story idea we should look into? Tell us here.

Give us feedback

We value your trust and work hard to provide fair, accurate coverage. If you have found an error or omission in our reporting, tell us here.

Or if you have a story idea we should look into? Tell us here.