- Associated Press - Monday, March 24, 2014

Dubuque Telegraph Herald. March 21, 2014.

State seeks answers with more secret meetings

It might seem fitting to hear a lieutenant governor talking so much about government transparency during Sunshine Week - a period dedicated to public access to the workings of government.

But Iowa Lt. Gov. Kim Reynolds‘ recent impromptu references to openness came in response to questions about a Des Moines Register investigation that shows a half-dozen state employees were fired - allegedly because they were Democrats - and paid to keep quiet.

There’s nothing sunny about this story. And it gets worse.

Reynolds was out front on this because Gov. Terry Branstad was enjoying some real sunshine on an Arizona vacation. But Reynolds claims neither she nor the governor know anything about payoffs. She intends to find out exactly what happened by creating a working group to look into who authorized the settlements and how that came to pass. Reynolds said the group assembled will include all stakeholders and will restore openness and transparency.

But there’s a problem: The meetings will be secret.

Yes, the Branstad administration’s effort to get to the bottom of secret government payouts will be led by a group that will meet in secret.

This is no way to observe Sunshine Week.

First of all, it’s a little hard to believe that the governor and lieutenant governor knew nothing about the six employees getting paid more than $280,000. But if they really didn’t know, then why didn’t they know?

The Register’s investigation revealed the employees had jobs related to project labor agreements initiated by Branstad’s predecessor, Chet Culver. It wouldn’t be so unusual that the Republican administration that followed a Democrat would eliminate those positions, but where the secret settlements came into play is unclear. The settlements didn’t get processed through the Iowa Appeals Board - as is typical, so the payouts never became public.

Reynolds is right that a group of stakeholders needs to cut to the heart of the issue and find out who authorized the payments and why nobody told the governor’s office about it.

But surely she must see the irony in instructing this group to meet in secret.

Let’s hope the governor brings a little sunshine back from Arizona and shines the light of public scrutiny on this dust-up before it turns into a real storm.

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