Iowa taking ‘steps’ on 2 officials who kept misconduct quiet
IOWA CITY, Iowa (AP) — Iowa’s executive branch is taking “appropriate steps” after an investigation found that two high-ranking officials witnessed sexual misconduct by an agency director but failed to report it, the governor’s spokeswoman said Wednesday.
An investigation report released last week concluded that Iowa Finance Authority lobbyist Wes Peterson and Iowa Title Guaranty director Tara Lawrence were aware of “egregious acts” of wrongdoing by IFA Director Dave Jamison, including that they watched him grab a colleague’s breasts at a bar in December 2016.
Neither Peterson nor Lawrence reported the incident and both remained part of Jamison’s small inner circle, a group that frequented Des Moines bars for happy hour and may have received favoritism from the director, the independent investigation by the Weinhardt Law Firm concluded.
Peterson and Lawrence were also aware of other inappropriate sexual comments and actions by Jamison, including that he showed pornography to the groping victim during another work trip, employees told the investigators.
Peterson yelled at the victim during a phone call after Jamison was fired in March, demanding to know whether she had filed a complaint with Gov. Kim Reynolds that led to Jamison’s ouster, the report found. He told the woman that he would falsely claim that he was too drunk to remember the incident. He later apologized for treating her harshly, texting that he feared he would become “collateral damage” in the case.
Lawrence, meanwhile, was so intoxicated on the night of the groping incident, which occurred at a hotel bar near Okoboji, “that she had trouble walking,” a witness told investigators. Lawrence didn’t cooperate with the independent investigation, refusing to answer any questions about that night or “any aspect of the investigation,” it said.
Peterson, 35, and Lawrence, 34, appear to still be employed in state jobs earning well over $100,000. Neither they nor the IFA’s interim executive director and spokeswoman replied to repeated messages seeking comment.
Governor’s office press secretary Brenna Smith said Wednesday that “appropriate steps are being taken” in the case, but she declined to elaborate. Reynolds asked for the independent investigation in April.
Peterson told investigators that after Reynolds was elected lieutenant governor in 2010, she helped him land the job as the IFA’s director of government relations. His salary went from roughly $60,000 to $113,000 during Jamison’s tenure as director, he said.
Lawrence joined the agency as an attorney in 2012 and was later promoted to lead Iowa Title Guaranty, which provides property titles. Her salary also jumped under Jamison to about $122,000 as of last year.
Peterson told investigators that he was “personally appalled” by the groping incident, but that he didn’t report it because the victim told him not to — a claim she denied.
Michael Nelson, the vice chairman of the IFA’s board of directors, said he hasn’t been informed about any personnel decisions on Peterson and Lawrence.
“I do hope that all personnel decisions will be made carefully and with great deliberation, because the bullying tactics and behavior of the former executive director that employees were subjected to must be factored in,” he said.