Gov. Kim Reynolds will seemingly stop at nothing to cloak the details surrounding the recent firing of a top aide and political ally. And she's flouting state Open Records Law to do it.
Make no mistake, the specifics of Reynolds' March sacking of Iowa Finance Authority Director David Jamison could pose real political peril for Iowa's Republican governor. The available facts suggest the Reynolds administration received a "credible" complaint that Jamison sexually harassed his employees. Reynolds showed Jamison the door the following day. This narrative works well for the Reynolds administration. Apparently, anything beyond the administration's line isn't so flattering.
On Monday, the Reynolds administration embarrassed itself by bungling a response to an Associated Press Freedom of Information request seeking documents about Jamison's firing. First, administration officials said no such documents, text messages or emails existed. Hours later, they admitted the matter was of course written down in some form, but refused to release the info citing administrative rules.
While talking to reporters, Reynolds offered perhaps the lamest excuse possible. She's interested in protecting Jamison's victims, she claimed.
Sorry, Governor, there's a thing called redaction. And no one believes you're unaware of that fact.
No, Monday's cynical assault on Iowa's transparency law was the political ploy of a first-time governor in re-election mode. Reynolds touts her persona as a governor with no tolerance for men in power exploiting their subordinates or failing to control their libidos. It was Reynolds who earlier this year basically forced Iowa Senate Majority Leader Bill Dix, a fellow Republican, from office after a public makeout session with a lobbyist was caught on video. That's good news for Reynolds' campaign in a moment where #MeToo drives the national discourse.
But Reynolds' happy little election-year messaging could crumble if reporters start digging around for details. Or, perhaps, she's merely interested in safeguarding Jamison's already tarnished resume. In either event, Reynolds responded Monday by running roughshod over every basic tenet of open government, and offered a flat-out laughable defense for it. This entire fiasco was self-imposed and wholly avoidable if Reynolds and her surrogates simply complied with state law.
Transparency laws are, by design, mechanisms for holding public officials accountable. And, after Monday's flailing response to the Associated Press, it's clear Reynolds has no interest in being held liable for her administration's handling of the situation.
The nature of the complaint is key to understanding the functioning of a public agency. So, too, are documents detailing the administration's handling of the complaint against Jamison and, should they exist, any previous indications he was targeting state employees.
The most reasonable conclusion is that Reynolds is hiding the details because it's best for her, plain and simple. And her weak-sauce excuse about protecting the victims is an affront to Jamison's victims and the people who paid his salary.
Flat out, Jamison was a public employee working on the taxpayer dime. And, by every account, he abused his power. The public has every right to know the degree of Jamison's abuse. And it's wholly possible to both protect Jamison's victims while permitting the public to scrutinize the administration's actions.
But the circumstances surrounding this single incident is but one component of the entire issue. Iowa Open Record Law mandates public access to information, no matter how embarrassing or damaging. Reynolds' suggestion that a simple administrative rule supersedes state law is dangerous precedent that speaks to this administration's willingness to keep the public in the dark. It speaks to an administration that brashly chooses its own political well-being over Iowa law.
Reynolds has two options: She can release the documents or prove, once and for all, that she considers political optics of greater value than the rule of law and citizens' right to know.