Democrats say vacant public health board is ‘failed leadership’

By: - July 26, 2021 1:24 pm

The Iowa Capitol in springtime. (Photo by Kathie Obradovich/Iowa Capital Dispatch)

Democrats criticized state leadership Monday over an advisory health board that was left unable to operate because of vacant positions. 

The Iowa State Board of Health canceled a July meeting because seven of its 11 positions were vacant. Two Democratic state senators, Herman Quirmbach of Ames and Liz Mathis of Marion, raised concerns about the vacancies in a news release last week. 

The board is meant to advise the Iowa Department of Public Health on a variety of issues, including the “prevention of epidemics and the spread of disease,” and “recovering from public health emergencies and disasters,” according to Iowa Code.

Democratic leaders said Monday that the vacancies were an example of “failed leadership” by Gov. Kim Reynolds. Reynolds is responsible for appointing members of the public, medical professionals, and substance abuse and public health experts to the board.

Democrats argued the oversight was indicative of a pattern of Reynolds acting without the guidance of public health officials through the COVID-19 pandemic.

“It’s the symbolism behind the fact that Gov. Reynolds doesn’t seem to want to hear from experts when it comes to addressing the issues facing our state,” said House Minority Leader Jennifer Konfrst. “She wants to listen to her political team.”

A spokesperson for the governor’s office did not immediately respond to questions about why the positions were vacant or when they might be filled. 

Mathis, ranking member on the human resources committee, said a representative of the governor told lawmakers there was an absence on the governor’s staff that stalled the appointment process. Mathis said there were applicants for the positions, including a board member who was waiting to be reconfirmed for another term.

The board last met in May and is scheduled to meet again in September.

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Katie Akin
Katie Akin

Katie Akin is a former Iowa Capital Dispatch reporter. Katie began her career as an intern at PolitiFact, debunking viral fake news and fact-checking state and national politicians. She moved to Iowa in 2019 for a politics internship at the Des Moines Register, where she assisted with Iowa Caucus coverage, multimedia projects and the Register’s Iowa Poll. She became the Register’s retail reporter in early 2020, chronicling the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on Central Iowa’s restaurants and retailers.