People who like Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds tell you that she's honest and a straight shooter.
We sure didn't get that from the news release her office sent out on Monday announcing changes at the Department of Human Services.
In the release, the governor said she’d appointed Gerd Clabaugh as the new DHS director, then spent three paragraphs lauding the "incredible job" he’d done at the Department of Public Health, extensively listing the positions he's held and his educational background.
Then, in the last paragraph, the release said "Clabaugh replaces Jerry Foxhoven, who resigned effective today."
No big deal. The guy who runs one of the biggest departments in the state just quit. No notice. And we’ve replaced him. Just another day in state government. And, hey, did you hear we have a new slogan for trying to get people to move here from New York?
Why do politicians do this?
It doesn’t fool anybody.
Foxhoven issued a statement Monday saying he’d been forced out. The governor sought his resignation, he said, and he gave it.
The governor's office didn't respond to questions on Monday.
This isn't some little noticed agency, nor has it lacked controversy. The Medicaid program that DHS oversees, which enrolls about 600,000 Iowans, was privatized three years ago and has struggled ever since. Yet another managed care company is bailing out of the program at the end of this month.
Then there is the unexpected increase in deaths of disabled people at the state-run Glenwood Resource Center. The Des Moines Register has reported extensively on this. The Department of Human Services says the deaths are not due to poor medical care, but more than a dozen current and former staffers have raised concerns about the facility, according to the Register.
Foxhoven was chosen for the job only two years ago, and he replaced a previous department director who left amid the controversy over the deaths of two teenagers, who had been starved and tortured. Both had been in the state's foster care system and were adopted.
But there are other reasons that also have us seeking answers about Foxhoven's departure.
The Department of Human Services plays a vital role in providing services to some of the state's most vulnerable populations and how it's being run is important to all of us.
We would note that Iowa is in the midst of launching a new children's mental health system, over which DHS plays a critical role. The governor says this new system is a top priority; it's also something that mental health advocates and many others in this state have been seeking for a long time.
Given all this, you'd think a change at the top of DHS would prompt more transparency.
But it didn't.
Not on Monday, anyway.
Instead, Iowans got obfuscation and silence.
On Tuesday, the governor's office belatedly issued a statement saying she'd asked Foxhoven to resign because she was assembling a new team throughout her administration and "wanted to go in a new direction" at DHS.
(This, of course, clarifies next to nothing.)
Judging by the governor's initial announcement and Tuesday's statement, it looks like the truth won't come out easily.
Nevertheless, the people of Iowa have a right to answers.
It's a shame that, so far, the governor isn't willing to provide them.