The Clinton Herald, Clinton, Iowa

April 21, 2014

State auditor investigating secret settlements

DAVID PITT
Associated Press

DES MOINES — Iowa Auditor Mary Mosiman said Monday she is conducting an audit of confidential, secret employee settlements that have troubled Gov. Terry Branstad's administration for more than a month.

State Sen. Jack Hatch, a Democrat who's running for governor, asked Mosiman on April 8 for an audit.

Mosiman responded in a letter, saying she began to review the settlement agreements the day after her office learned of them in March. She also said her office is working to identify anything improper or inappropriate, and she'll issue a public report when the investigation ends.

"In addition, we will certainly pursue necessary assistance from appropriate sources outside of state government if we cannot find the resources we believe are necessary within state government," she wrote.

Hatch told reporters Monday that Mosiman's response to him was appropriate.

He is also calling for the Legislature to approve funds for a broader independent audit, which he says will ensure politics is removed from the process. Mosiman, a Republican, was appointed by Branstad last year to fill a vacancy created when former Auditor David Vaudt resigned to take a job outside state government.

"I think we all want to have this investigation happen so there are as few challenges as possible," Hatch said. "That's very difficult in an election year. It's going to be very difficult to separate politics from the process, but as a candidate for governor I want to make sure we get to the bottom of these scandals and secondly, it's viewed as nonpartisan."

Hatch also supports the Senate leadership's plan to introduce a resolution authorizing the chamber's oversight committee to issue subpoenas and place witnesses under oath. It's likely to be introduced before the Legislature adjourns, he said.

Government documents show that more than 320 state workers have entered settlement agreements to leave their jobs since Branstad returned as governor in 2011. More than two dozen were asked to sign confidentiality agreements, and a total of more than $500,000 was paid out, including some former DAS workers.

Branstad fired his appointed director of the Iowa Department of Administrative Services, Mike Carroll, earlier this month after it became clear former workers had been offered in exchange for their silence about settlement agreements they were offered.

Other DAS managers have told the committee they don't know who authorized the agreements.

Branstad reiterated Monday in comments to reporters that he doesn't know who authorized them and seemed again to implicate a former DAS attorney, Ryan Lamb. He left state government a few months ago and now works in Florida for a construction contractor. Lamb has not returned repeated messages seeking comment.

Branstad said he's cooperated with the oversight committee, and would rather have the Legislature focus on his priorities, finish their work and go home.

"They said at the beginning of the session they intended to end the session a couple of weeks early," he said. "I hope they get done in the month of April. There are still important things that need to be done."

Senate Oversight Committee Chairwoman Janet Petersen, D-Des Moines, has called another hearing for Tuesday, where she expects the state's top human resources manager, her predecessor and to appear.

The committee has authority to continue its investigation beyond the end of the legislative session and says it'll do so into the summer.