- Associated Press - Thursday, March 27, 2014

DES MOINES, Iowa (AP) - Democratic lawmakers determined to question state administrators about confidential settlements reached with fired state workers accused top officials at the Department of Administrative Services on Thursday of stalling.

The Senate Government Oversight Committee had asked the agency’s director, Mike Carroll, to appear Thursday but he declined. Two other top administrators also declined, said Sen. Matt McCoy, D-Des Moines, and a member of the committee.

“This is not a monarchy,” he said on the Senate floor Thursday. “We come in and we hold people accountable.”

The department’s spokesman did not immediately return messages.

The committee has subpoena power, but Senate Majority Leader Mike Gronstal, D-Council Bluffs, said it’s too early to discuss that.

“We’re not going to start talking about that at this point,” he said. “We’ll give them some time to get their act together and rehearse their talking points and what it is they want to say. We will get to bottom of this.”

Sen. Janet Petersen, D-Des Moines, chairwoman of the oversight committee, said she asked the administration for more information on Thursday.

She’s seeking emails, fax transmissions and telephone logs between Republican Gov. Terry Branstad and his top employees and all department heads who signed confidential nondisclosure clauses. She’s also seeking details of Branstad’s 2011 reorganization of DAS, including job descriptions and related candidate recruitment efforts.

She asked for the information to be delivered within five days.

“Iowans are naturally concerned that state employees were fired and paid ‘hush money’ not to talk about what happened to them,” Petersen said in a statement.

She said DAS has not responded to a similar March 18 letter from her committee.

More than 320 state workers have been fired since Republican Gov. Terry Branstad took office in 2011 and 24 of them were asked to sign confidentiality agreements. Ten were given lump sum payments totaling more than $427,000 to keep quiet about their dismissals.

Branstad signed an executive order Monday prohibiting state agencies from entering future confidential settlement agreements. He said he knew nothing about the agreements, which were first reported in the Des Moines Register earlier this month, and called them ill-advised and unacceptable.

Democrats in the Legislature, however, are determined to get answers about why workers were let go and where the money came from the pay them.

Branstad has said the money came out of the agency budgets and the workers were cut as part of a reorganization he ordered when he took office in 2011 to make government more efficient.

“We’re holding this massive bureaucracy accountable, looking at their budgets, talking to them, listening to their concerns. We’re working with them,” McCoy said. “When they stall and say we’re not going to come forward, we’re not going to present, not going to play, not going to answer your questions they’re wasting taxpayer dollars.”

House Republican Speaker Kraig Paulsen accused Senate Democrats of spending too much time going after the governor to help Sen. Jack Hatch, a Des Moines Democrat running against Branstad.

Paulsen said the House Government Oversight Committee will be involved in questioning administration officials as long as it’s an honest effort to find information and not politics.

“If it’s about getting to the bottom and getting to the answers that are still outstanding and making sure good public policy is taking place, then absolutely,” he said. “If this is about another one of those campaign events then, no, that’s not what the people of Iowa pay us to do.”

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