- Associated Press - Monday, May 5, 2014

IOWA CITY, Iowa (AP) - Already under fire over a generous departure agreement for his top aide, Iowa Secretary of State Matt Schultz acknowledged Monday that he let two other Republican appointees work from home after requesting their resignations.

Schultz is facing an audit following last month’s revelation that he let chief deputy Jim Gibbons keep his $126,000-annual salary for seven months in 2012 after taking away his management duties. Schultz let Gibbons work from home for one month then required him to show up four days per week for the next six months. His duties weren’t clear, and Gibbons sometimes only briefly showed up before leaving.

Schultz said that he allowed assistant director of business services Todd Henderson to work from home for 90 days after submitting his resignation Feb. 1, 2012. Schultz also said he let former communications director Stephanie Laudner work at home for 30 days after requesting her resignation in 2011.

Schultz said those arrangements were allowed by the Department of Administrative Services for resigning at-will employees instead of severance pay, which isn’t permitted. In particular, he said DAS advised agencies can “keep an employee on payroll longer than they are required to come to the office, so long as the employee was available for phone calls and questions from home.” He said that was the case for Henderson and Laudner, who each had $63,000-annual salaries.

“With the two at-will staff members, we followed the advice of DAS and sent one individual home for 30 days and sent the other individual home for 90 days,” Schultz said.

In an interview last week, Laudner denied that she had any such arrangement. She said that she agreed to resign because Schultz was doing little press outreach after taking office in January 2011. She said that by March, she had few duties.

“There wasn’t anything for me to do. I asked him, ‘why should I stay on the payroll? I’m a fiscal conservative. You’re paying me to do nothing’,” she said.

Schultz spokesman Chance McElhaney said Monday that accusation was “totally false” and the conversation never occurred, claiming that Schultz requested her resignation for job performance issues.

Henderson didn’t respond to messages seeking comment.

DAS spokesman Caleb Hunter said the agency gave Schultz’s office general advice that wasn’t specific to any individual. He said Schultz’s office, as the hiring authority, was ultimately “responsible for their employees’ work assignments and their employees’ work product.”

While arguing Monday that he accepted the “standard advice of DAS for isolated personnel decisions,” Schultz was critical of the DAS-sanctioned practice of paying resigning employees to work from home in an interview last month explaining why he ordered Gibbons to physically return.

“They said, ‘well you could send somebody home and just pick a date, and just call that their last work day’,” he said. “I didn’t like that.”

Schultz is leaving the office to run for an open congressional seat, seeking the Republican nomination in a six-way June 3 primary. Casting himself as a budget-cutting conservative, he has run television ads claiming that the restructuring in which he eliminated Gibbons‘ job and laid off four union employees saved taxpayers $200,000.

Schultz said Monday that no other state elected official had achieved such savings, even while acknowledging the four union employees also remained on the payroll for one month after being let go.

Democrats described Monday’s revelations as more mismanagement by Schultz.

“Iowans value work and have no tolerance for political appointees getting a free ride on the taxpayer dime,” Secretary of State candidate Brad Anderson said.

Sen. Liz Mathis, D-Robins, who requested the audit of Schultz’s arrangement with Gibbons last week, said she doubted Schultz’s claimed savings would stand up to scrutiny.

State Auditor Mary Mosiman was Schultz’s other deputy at the time and took over Gibbons‘ duties. She has recused herself from the audit, but said Friday that her deputies were considering how to proceed.

Mathis said she wants to know whether DAS routinely allows departing employees to work from home.

A July 9, 2012 email from DAS personnel officer Steven Ainger advised Schultz’s office that managers can “send someone home for a set period of time as a work assignment until the separation date.” He said such employees must be available for “phone calls and questions during that time, since they would remain on payroll.”

Schultz had ordered Gibbons back to the office starting July 5, 2012, the day Schultz acknowledged inadvertently violating the state’s anti-nepotism law by hiring his brother to a part-time job.

Schultz said keeping Gibbons allowed for “a transition period where he would be available as a resource” and gave Gibbons flexibility to help his wife as she recovered from a serious illness. Gibbons‘ calendar released Monday indicated a 13-day leave during that period that was titled, “Italy.”

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