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Iowa official with 3 public jobs rips ‘goofy’ disclosure law

December 7, 2018

IOWA CITY, Iowa (AP) — A political appointee who works for three Iowa government agencies blasted an ethics law Friday that requires him and others with multiple state jobs to disclose them on a specific form.

Employment Appeal Board member James Strohman called the law “kind of a dumb thing” in an interview, saying no one knows about the requirement, it’s not enforced and it gives the public little information.

“It’s a goofy rule,” he said.

Strohman earns $84,000 on the full-time board, which Gov. Terry Branstad appointed him to in 2014. Strohman also has a halftime lecturer appointment at Iowa State University, where he teaches two online courses per semester and earned $42,000 last year. In addition, he teaches two or three courses each semester through Des Moines Area Community College, either online or at its campuses, earning an additional $15,000 per year, on average.

Under a 2006 law, state employees “shall not receive compensation simultaneously” from multiple agencies unless they file the disclosure with the ethics board within 20 days of accepting their secondary employment. The goal was to bring scrutiny to employees with multiple publicly-funded jobs to make sure they had no conflicts of interest and could perform both.

The law was passed after a lawyer with the Iowa Workforce Development agency was found to be working extensively as a contract public defender, including on days when she used sick leave. Dozens of notices have been filed over the last 12 years. They’re supposed to be posted on the ethics board’s website , but the agency has stopped doing so for a year due to its long-running technical inability to update the site.

Strohman recently filled out the form for the first time, under protest, in response to an inquiry from ethics board director Megan Tooker. Strohman said he had been unaware of the requirement and doesn’t believe it applies to his situation. He argued that his teaching jobs Iowa State and DMACC shouldn’t be covered by the law, even though administrative rules make clear that they are.

He told Tooker that he was filling out the form only “in the interest of complying with a perceived requirement, however misconstrued it may be.” He’s not expected to face consequences for his earlier noncompliance.

Strohman said he puts in a full-time workload and is proud of his service at the board, which rules on appeals of unemployment benefits decisions, OSHA violations and other matters.

The obscure agency was in the news last year after one of its other members, Kim Schmett, and his wife were criticized for side work in which they lobbied on behalf of the Saudi Arabian government. Lawmakers this year barred state officials from outside jobs that require registering as a foreign agent.

Strohman said that he’s only missed one of 910 daily board meetings and does most of his teaching at nights and weekends. When he teaches during the day, he said he takes vacation that he’s accrued from his decades in state service.

“I turn on my computer at night and on weekends and grade papers and have discussions with students. It’s not hard to do,” he said. “I’ve been doing it 12 years. I have it down. I enjoy it.”

Strohman said that when Branstad appointed him, the governor only asked that he stop writing about politics for an independent newspaper in Des Moines. Months before his appointment, Strohman had written a glowing piece about Branstad’s historic political career.

Strohman said he’s no different than others who work two or three jobs to make ends meet.

“That’s just an economic reality for a lot of Iowans,” he said.

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Follow Ryan J. Foley on Twitter: https://twitter.com/rjfoley

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