DES MOINES, Iowa (AP) — Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds’ office acknowledged Monday it does have a complaint detailing sexual harassment allegations against a longtime ally of the governor who was fired last month.
The acknowledgement is a reversal of earlier denials, which the office says were an oversight. The Republican governor said she is withholding a written complaint from the public to protect victims who reported allegations against former Iowa Finance Authority Director David Jamison.
An aide to Reynolds received the complaint against Jamison on March 23, the governor’s office told The Associated Press on Monday afternoon. Jamison was fired the next day.
The governor’s office argued the complaint isn’t subject to the Iowa’s open records law.
“The public’s right to know has to be balanced with the interests and well-being of the victims. They requested confidentiality, and I can’t allow them to be victimized again by betraying that trust,” Reynolds said in a statement, which didn’t address why the complaint couldn’t be released with sensitive information blacked out.
The acknowledgment that a complaint exists came hours after AP reported that the governor’s office denied having any such documents in response to an open records request seeking “all correspondence” related to the allegations against Jamison. Reynolds’ office said last week’s response by general counsel Colin Smith — who initially redacted the name of a restaurant where Jamison and Reynolds had breakfast for “security reasons” — was an error.
The flip-flop is likely to give more ammunition to critics who have called on the governor to provide more information about the case. Reynolds announced March 24 that she had ordered Jamison’s firing after receiving “credible” allegations, which she later said involved multiple employees. Reynolds and Jamison have known each other for 20 years, dating back to when they were county treasurers and leaders of the Iowa State County Treasurers Association.
Reynolds said earlier Monday that she doesn’t have to give any further reason for the termination because Jamison was a political appointee who could be fired for any reason. She also defended her decision not to recuse herself from the matter despite her longstanding work and political ties to Jamison.
“I have a lot of friends and colleagues that I have worked with over the years. We said we had a zero-tolerance policy and that means that applies to everybody,” Reynolds told reporters.
The governor’s office says a law change that took effect last year that requires Iowa government agencies to release the “documented reasons and rationale” when public workers are fired or demoted following misconduct investigations doesn’t apply to Jamison.
Iowa Freedom of Information Council director Randy Evans disputed that legal interpretation. He said in emails to the AP that the law makes no distinction between government employees who are hired through the merit-selection process and those who are hired as at-will employees.
“The governor is ignoring the clear language and clear intent of Iowa’s public records law,” he wrote.
In declining to release the complaint about Jamison, Reynolds’ office cited an administrative code detailing how the Department of Administrative Services investigates sexual harassment complaints. The rule says information gathered is confidential and won’t be released “unless the director deems such disclosure to be in the best interest of the state or unless ordered by a court.” It’s unclear how that rule would apply to the governor’s office.
Evans also disputed that interpretation of administrative code, adding: “The law that was enacted last year takes precedence over any administrative rule pertaining to state government personnel policies.”
Jamison hasn’t responded to messages seeking comment, and his alleged victims haven’t spoken publicly.