Staff Editorial

DHS shake-up leaves Iowans perplexed

Jerry Foxhoven, Director of the Iowa Department of Human Services addresses members of the council at a meeting of the Council on Human Services at the Hoover State Office Building in Des Moines on Wednesday, June 13, 2018. Department of Human Services Director Mike Randol spoke about the cost discrepancies in DHS's reporting of the state's Medicaid managed care plans. (Rebecca F. Miller/The Gazette)
Jerry Foxhoven, Director of the Iowa Department of Human Services addresses members of the council at a meeting of the Council on Human Services at the Hoover State Office Building in Des Moines on Wednesday, June 13, 2018. Department of Human Services Director Mike Randol spoke about the cost discrepancies in DHS's reporting of the state's Medicaid managed care plans. (Rebecca F. Miller/The Gazette)

Gov. Kim Reynolds is mistaken if she thinks the controversy surrounding her recent personnel changes will blow over without a substantive explanation.

In a seemingly abrupt move last month, Reynolds asked Jerry Foxhoven to resign from his post as director of the Iowa Department of Human Services.

Reynolds said her administration would go in a “new direction,” even though she was the one who appointed Foxhoven just two years prior. She and her aides have declined to say what the new direction entails, which is troublesome in light of the state Medicaid program’s rising costs and service shortfalls.

The governor’s ambiguous explanation was inadequate at the time, and recent developments have left Iowans even more confused.

In a bizarre twist last week, the Associated Press published emails showing Foxhoven frequently emailed staff members about rap music legend Tupac Shakur. Days before he was forced to resign, Foxhoven sent a message promoting the late musician’s birthday, fueling speculation in the national media that Foxhoven’s Tupac fandom was the reason for his ouster.

Things got even worse after Foxhoven told the music blog Pitchfork that Reynolds’ staff asked him to “do something I thought was illegal.”

Then on Wednesday, the AP reported that Foxhoven had objected to his department’s funding of a Reynolds health policy adviser’s salary. The governor’s office denies he raised the objection and insists the common arrangement is legal, while still declining to say exactly why Foxhoven was let go.

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Following Foxhoven’s resignation, The Gazette requested about a month’s worth of emails between Foxhoven and his staff. The state found more than 7,000 responsive records, but estimated it would cost $7,680 for officials to review the messages and redact information not subject to public disclosure.

While Iowa law allows government agencies to charge requesters “actual costs” associated with filling a records request, imposing exorbitant fees is a common tactic used to impede journalistic investigations. Since the newspaper declined to go forward with the request, it’s impossible to know whether that was a reasonable fee for the records in question.

The Foxhoven saga has earned Iowa unflattering media attention. National Public Radio panelists poked fun at Iowa politics for nearly nine minutes during the latest edition of the popular “Wait Wait ... Don’t Tell Me!” program.

Democrats in the Legislature are asking the chamber’s two government oversight committees to investigate Foxhoven’s departure.. It’s a reasonable request, but since Reynolds’ Republican allies control the committees, such a probe is unlikely.

Foxhoven has been in contact with the state auditor and the inspector general of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Gazette journalist Michaela Ramm reported this week. We hope those inquiries will lead to some further public disclosure about what motivated Reynolds. However, it would be easier for everyone involved if Reynolds simply explained her decision to Iowans, and articulated her vision for the department. Anything short of that is a grave disservice to public interests.

l Comments: (319) 398-8262; editorial@thegazette.com

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