Gov. Kim Reynolds had no choice but to react. Iowa’s transparency law rendered impossible any notion her administration’s sexual harassment scandal would evaporate into the ether, and rightly so.
Reynolds really didn’t want the public to see the sexual harassment complaint that resulted in the March firing of Iowa Finance Authority Director David Jamison. Iowa’s Republican governor expected blind trust from the public, hoping Iowans wouldn’t ask too many questions. Officials in her administration bungled badly its response to a Freedom of Information request from The Associated Press. They falsely claimed there were no documents. Then, they acknowledged documents existed but refused to release them, a direct attack on Iowa’s Open Records Law.
And then, late last week, the Reynolds administration succumbed to the mounting pressure and released the four-page complaint from an IFA employee detailing years of alleged sexual harassment. The complaint paints Jamison as an arrogant, knowing perpetrator believing himself untouchable. And its release resulted in a flood of new information, including details that Jamison’s behavior was widely known among the agency’s upper echelon.
Predictably, Reynolds’ assertion that an agency-wide probe was unnecessary didn’t stand up to scrutiny. Her rejection of calls for a deep dive into the facts — including the mechanisms that empowered Jamison to allegedly abuse his staff — were out-of-step with her carefully crafted image as a governor who’s tough on men behaving badly.
On Friday, Reynolds opened an investigation. On Monday, she expanded it. It’s the appropriate response from any above-board organization interested in more than managing bad headlines.
Good on Iowa’s governor for coming around and dropping the disingenuous excuses about protecting victims. But Reynolds was dragged into action kicking and screaming. Her administration aimed to close the blinds and move on. The more information that saw the light of day, the worse the optics became for Reynolds, who’s in the midst of her first re-election bid.
Facts — available through Iowa’s transparency law — forced Reynolds to surrender the cover up and practice what she preaches. Reynolds lost this one. Hopefully, she’ll learn from the embarrassing defeat.
In the long run, Iowa government is likely to be a fairer, more functional endeavor because of it. Whistle-blowers should emerge empowered to report harassment without fear of reprisal. And the taxpayer should come out the other end more confident they’re not funding flat-out lechery.
This past week, Reynolds gambled. She assumed her charm and general likability would be enough to assuage concerns about her administration’s oversight of IFA and bury a story that could only damage her politically. It was a losing hand.
So, after more than a month, an investigation that should have been launched immediately after the complaint is finally underway. At the probe’s conclusion, the public should know why Jamison was able to lord over his employees’ bodies for so long. It should know what steps will be taken to ensure it doesn’t happen again.
It’s instances such as these that, at one time, highlight the power of sunshine laws and stand as a reminder of why they’re so often under attack. Seemingly every legislative cycle in statehouses throughout the country, there’s talk about a new exemption to Open Record Law. Sometimes it’s cynical lawmakers looking to exempt themselves. In other instances, a powerful lobby wants its special interest protected for no other reason than to elevate its interests above the public’s.
But a representative government only truly functions when the citizenry is the ultimate check on those in power. This past week, Reynolds — with an eye on political expedience — forgot that truth.