The Clinton Herald, Clinton, Iowa

State News

April 3, 2014

Former state workers outline abrupt 2011 firing

DES MOINES — Four former state employees said Wednesday they doubt the state saved as much money as Gov. Terry Branstad and other officials have claimed from layoffs in 2011 as part of state government reorganization.

The workers, testifying before the Senate Government Oversight Committee, also claimed some of their jobs are now done by contractors at significantly higher cost. They said laws were broken in the way their dismissals were handled in what Sen. Matt McCoy called the Sept. 1 massacre, when a dozen workers at the Department of Administrative Services were suddenly laid off.

The workers contend their replacements were unqualified to perform the engineering and architectural jobs they held, that jobs weren't properly advertised, and replacements hired were friends or acquaintances of administrators at the Iowa Department of Administrative Services.

They were called to testify as an inquiry into settlement agreements with fired and disciplined state workers deepens at the Capitol. The Democratic-led Senate committee is trying to determine why state officials signed confidentiality agreements and in some cases paid cash for the workers to keep quiet. Republican members of the House Government Oversight Committee were invited but declined to participate.

More than 320 state workers have entered settlement agreements since the Republican governor took office in 2011, and more than two dozen were asked to sign confidentiality agreements. The total paid exceeded $500,000.

Five settlement agreements came from the Iowa Department of Administrative Services and were approved by the agency's director, Mike Carroll.

Ken Thornton, who was responsible for keeping the heat and lights on at the Capitol and many surrounding state buildings, said he managed $44 million in contracts and had 30 people answering to him. A change in management style came in after Branstad was elected in 2011, he said.

"I was never talked to so disrespectfully," he said of his new boss, Doug Woodley, who continues as the chief operating officer of General Services Enterprise at DAS.

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