Iowans are once again being left in the dark as a confusing saga unfolds at the top of a state agency.
Mark Bowden, a former Gazette editor, has been the executive director of the Iowa Board of Medicine since 2008. The board does important work, licensing physicians, sanctioning doctors for poor performance or ethical lapses and regulating certain procedures and treatments.
In June, Bowden was suspended from his job with no public explanation. Last week, board members voted to reinstate him, but then scheduled another meeting this week to reconsider. Before the board could act again, Bowden abruptly retired.
“Unfortunately, over the past eight months I have been hindered in my work by what I perceive are substantial deficiencies in service and a lack of adequate support from the Department of Public Health and the Department of Administrative Services,” Bowden wrote in a letter to the board. He also cited “grossly unfair” treatment by officials in the two agencies.
The agencies declined to comment, referring questions to the Attorney General’s Office. The Attorney General’s Office also declined to explain what happened.
In 2017, state lawmakers, at the urging of then-Gov. Terry Branstad, approved legislation requiring agencies to give the public reasons when employees are terminated, or who resign rather than be fired. But a spokesman for the attorney general told The Des Moines Register the law doesn’t apply in this case. Just because the board planned to reconsider Bowden’s reinstatement “we can’t speculate” that he was about to be terminated, the paper was told.
It’s reminiscent of what we heard earlier this year from Gov. Kim Reynolds, who refused to provide details on the firing of former Iowa Finance Authority director David Jamison amid charges of sexual harassment. Her office, too, argued the new law didn’t apply. Eventually, one of the victims of Jamison’s harassment stepped forward to provide important details.
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The law is intended to inform the public when misconduct or other problems occur on their dime. It was supposed to end the common practice of hiding details by simply insisting it’s a “personnel matter.” And in this case, Bowden’s mention of “substantial deficiencies in service and a lack of adequate support” would seem to suggest this is about more than a personnel matter.
Iowans deserve a far better explanation than “no comment.” And if Iowa’s expanded law still leaves too much room for evasion by officials who would rather not explain, lawmakers should strengthen it, and push these confusing sagas into the light.
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