DES MOINES — Gov. Terry Branstad is defending Chuck Palmer’s handling of the events at the Iowa Juvenile Home, but a lawmaker who sued over the recent closure of the Toledo facility for troubled girls said the director of the state Department of Human Services should be fired for problems there. 

Palmer told a legislative panel last week that he bore “some responsibility” for problems at the home that included inappropriate use of restraints, long-term use of isolation rooms and inadequate educational services, but Branstad blamed a “culture of secrecy” at the home that shielded the true picture from state administrators until they were brought to light by Disability Rights Iowa advocates.

“Chuck Palmer’s been a good director and he’s done a good job,” Branstad told reporters in defending his Department of Human Services director. “I don’t fault him.”

The governor said he has met with Palmer regularly since problems at the Toledo home became public, and Human Services officials are overseeing changes that have taken place following recommendations from a task force that included Palmer as a member.

“I believe the department has corrected the mistakes that were made at Toledo. We don’t want to see that ever happen again,” Branstad told reporters during his weekly news conference.

However, Sen. Steve Sodders, D-State Center, one of four state lawmakers who joined a state employees’ union official in successfully winning an initial court battle to reopen the Toledo home, said he was “disappointed” by Branstad’s vote of confidence, given that the problems happened under “both Chuck and the governor’s watch."

“The things they cited for closure happened within the last two years,” Sodders said. “They fired everybody else. I don’t understand why the governor couldn’t fire Palmer for being that bad. But I guess that’s up to the governor and we move on from there.

“I think he ought to let him go now,” Sodders added. “If the governor thought it was so horrible that he couldn’t wait until we got in session and let the Legislature help fix the problem, then those things that happened were obviously under Chuck Palmer’s watch and he ought to be fired.”

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Branstad said it otherwise, saying that Palmer’s response, once he became of aware of the problems, has been appropriate, and that the overriding concern has to be for the children who once resided at the Toledo facility.

“I think it’s a very difficult job to be the director of the Department of Human Services,” Branstad said. “He’s uniquely qualified for this position, and he’s handled it very well over a lot of years and handled a lot of difficult situations.”

Branstad said he was “surprised and disappointed” by the lawsuit seeking to reopen the Toledo home, adding that he is “very optimistic and hopeful” the outcome of the court fight will be a decision that is “appropriate and in best interest of the children.”

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