Iowa governor reverses course, orders harassment review
DES MOINES, Iowa (AP) — Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds ordered an independent review Friday into problems at a state agency where the director allegedly sexually harassed female employees for years without consequence, reversing what the governor had told reporters earlier in the day.
Reynolds had told reporters Friday morning that no further investigation of the Iowa Finance Authority was necessary because its former director, her longtime ally Dave Jamison, was responsible for the problems and that she had fired him.
But by Friday afternoon, Reynolds announced that she and the attorney general’s office had selected prominent white-collar attorney Mark Weinhardt to lead an independent review. She said Weinhardt would investigate Jamison’s conduct during his 7-year tenure as director and “what was known at IFA about these matters and the appropriateness of the response to them.”
Reynolds said in a statement that she had been reluctant to investigate earlier because she wanted to protect the safety and privacy of two victims who reported “horrible allegations” to her office last month.
“Now that one of the victims has made the decision to release the specific details of the harassment, I am ordering an independent review of David Jamison’s conduct and what was known about it,” she said.
The woman’s attorney had said she agreed to the release of her complaint with redactions after The Associated Press sought the document under the open records law.
The hiring of Weinhardt marks a second reversal for the governor in the case of Jamison, whom the governor has known well for 20 years. Last week, she said that no documentary evidence of his harassment existed before releasing Thursday a graphic complaint addressed to Reynolds that detailed behavior that she called “disgusting and abhorrent.”
Weinhardt helped document one of Iowa’s biggest corruption scandals in recent memory when he was hired by the Iowa Senate to investigate then-Sen. Kent Sorenson for allegedly seeking cash payments for endorsing GOP presidential candidates during the 2012 Iowa Caucus cycle. Sorenson was later convicted and sentenced to 15 months in prison.
Reynolds fired Jamison last month, a day after two employees told the governor’s office that he had been sexually harassing them. The complaint from one of the women released Thursday alleged Jamison made unwanted sexual advances, comments about her breasts and constant crude sexual remarks and gestures.
The woman wrote that a male agency lawyer often told Jamison “that he needs to stop it or be quiet,” and that a male agency administrator had reprimanded Jamison for inappropriate comments. Reynolds said she understood that they may have feared retaliation if they stepped forward to complain.
The woman said she reported the behavior to the governor because she worried Jamison would be cleared or she would be fired if she contacted a separate state agency that reviews human resources issues for state employees.
Attorney Paige Fiedler, who’s representing one of the victims, didn’t immediately return a message seeking comment on the independent review. But Fiedler said Thursday that any “responsible employer” would typically investigate such complaints to determine the extent of the problems, who was aware of them and why they weren’t reported. Fiedler, a prominent attorney for sexual harassment victims, said such inquiries happen even after the perpetrator has been fired because there are lessons to be learned.
“A lot of those management folks knew what was going on. I think everybody had the moral obligation and the obligation under the state’s policies to report it,” she said.
Fiedler said she believed that employees feared retaliation, and that Jamison had created an environment where such behavior was tolerated.
“He had made the culture of that department such that, everybody seemed to think that was just what you did there. This was the way that he ran things,” she said.
Jamison hasn’t spoken publicly about the allegations, but said in a text message Friday he was planning to do so “soon.”
Democratic lawmakers have called for an independent investigation, saying it’s important to know the details of any prior complaints against Jamison and how they were handled.
Interim IFA Director Carolann Jensen had said Thursday that there was no pending investigation at the agency and that the governor’s office hadn’t reached out about launching one.
“This is not indicative of the work environment at the Iowa Finance Authority,” she said. “Clearly the bad apple has been dismissed.”