- Associated Press - Wednesday, April 23, 2014

DES MOINES, Iowa (AP) - The Senate Government Oversight Committee passed a bill Wednesday that guarantees state workers expanded whistleblower protections and addresses other issues including secret settlement agreements, and hiring and firing practices.

The bill, which could come to the Senate floor as early as Thursday, was passed out of committee 3-2 with Democratic support. Two Republicans voted against the measure, which is the result of weeks of oversight committee meetings where concerns have been raised about how the state keeps quiet the firing or discipline of workers through settlement agreements with confidentiality clauses.

Concerns were raised at a Tuesday meeting regarding procedures for handling worker complaints and whistleblower protections. To illustrate the issue, the committee released a recording of an interview with Lisa Purvis, a former worker at the Iowa Veterans Home who says she was sexually harassed and intimidated by the home’ former leader and watch him threaten workers and veterans.

Purvis, who provided the recording and authorize its release, was a marketing director and legislative liaison at the Marshalltown home from December 2007 to August 2011. The February 2012 interview was conducted by Jeff Panknen, a human resources officer at the Iowa Department of Administrative Services who was investigating Purvis‘ complaints about the behavior of former Commandant David Worley.

Purvis said Worley called veterans at the home lazy, frequently using curse words, and kept a blacklist of residents he didn’t like, many of whom were involuntarily discharged from the home. She said that Worley reprimanded her in the summer of 2011 for keeping detailed notes and documenting too much, and later called her into a meeting in which he talked of guns and relayed a story of how he beat up an employee at a former workplace over a disagreement.

She told Panknen she feared for her safety, and also said on the recording that her working relationship became increasingly tense after she rebuffed Worley that same summer when he suggested at the end of the day they go “to your place or mine.”

Purvis said she was laid off by Worley in August 2011 after expressing concerns to others.

The state’s top human resources officer, Michelle Minnehan, told the oversight committee Tuesday the full report on Worley was provided to Gov. Terry Branstad’s chief of staff at some point after the report was compiled following the interview with Purvis.

Worley resigned in October 2013, and at that time, Branstad thanked him for his “years of service and important changes at the Iowa Veterans Home.”

Sen. Matt McCoy, D-Des Moines, a member of the oversight committee, said it appears the investigation into complaints about Worley was “swept under the rug.”

He expressed concerns that Worley continued to work for more than a year more before he resigned.

“None of this seems right to me. It seems like there’s too many closed doors, too many confidential agreements, too many of these decisions that never get followed up on,” he said.

Branstad spokesman Jimmy Centers said allegations about state employees are part of their personnel file and confidential under Iowa law.

Worley’s home telephone number appears to be unlisted and he couldn’t be reached for comment.

The bill headed for the Senate makes it illegal to fire, demote or inflict other reprisal for reporting mismanagement, abuse of authority or other problems. It says a department head or supervisor in executive and legislative branches of government cannot prohibit an employee from reporting.

The measure also would make personnel settlement agreements subject to review by the attorney general, prohibit confidentiality provisions and post all agreements on a state website. Under the bill, the state’s hiring and firing practices would be revised, new procedures would be established for issuing state service contracts to businesses outside government, and all bonuses over $200 given to state workers would be posted online.

Republican senators on the committee, Julian Garrett and Sandra Greiner, opposed the bill because it does not include a Republican-backed proposal that would open state employee records so the public would know what a worker did wrong to get fired or disciplined.

McCoy said disclosing that information could open the state to lawsuits.



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