After 105 days, Reynolds’ office discloses messages from fired agency head

By: - August 24, 2021 2:45 pm

Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds speaks at a Feb. 25, 2021, press conference at Iowa PBS. (Screen shot from Iowa PBS livestream)

After a delay of 105 days, Gov. Kim Reynolds has released some of the correspondence her office received from the head of the Iowa Veterans Home before he was fired earlier this year.

Reynolds fired IVH Commandant Timon Oujiri without explanation in early May after it was alleged that he had collected $105,413 in improper, excess compensation since 2019. The excess pay and benefits were paid out as a result of Oujiri’s timesheets incorrectly showing 112 hours, rather than 80 hours, worked in each two-week pay period, according to a report from the state auditor’s office.

After Oujiri’s firing was announced, the Iowa Capital Dispatch filed a formal Open Records Law request with Reynolds’ office, seeking access to all written communications between Reynolds’ staff and Oujiri about any overpayments. Reynolds’ staff did not acknowledge the request.

On July 28, the Capital Dispatch sent another written copy of the request to Reynolds’ office and asked, “No response to this May 10 record request?” Again, Reynolds staff did not acknowledge or respond to the request.

On Aug. 2, after an Iowa Auditor of State report disclosed the reasons for Oujiri’s dismissal, the Capital Dispatch wrote again to Reynolds’ staff, this time requesting copies of a “personal thank you note” Oujiri had sent to the governor and an email he had sent to Reynolds’ chief of staff. The request noted the governor’s staff had never acknowledged the larger, May 10 request for all overpayment-related correspondence with Oujiri.

On Monday, the governor’s legal counsel, Michael Boal, wrote to the Capital Dispatch, and provided three documents:

  • An August 2019 handwritten note Oujiri sent to Reynolds shortly after the unauthorized pay increase took effect, in which he told the governor, “I am truly grateful for the increase in my base salary.”
  • An email Oujiri sent to Reynolds’ chief of staff about the same time, in which Oujiri said, “I truly appreciate the confidence in my increase.”
  • An email Oujiri sent to the chief of staff hours before he was fired in May, saying, “I am very sorry for not questioning my increase. I am terribly sorry to embarrass you and the governor. I am hoping and praying you can find forgiveness in your heart.”

Boal said the office was not withholding any documents relevant to either request for records about Oujiri’s overpayment.

However, he did not turn over to the Capital Dispatch two other documents related to Oujiri’s pay:

  • A handwritten note Oujiri allegedly sent to Reynolds that’s dated Dec. 21, 2020, four months before he was fired, saying, “I am deeply humbled and honored when Sara called to inform me of my salary increase.”
  • A second handwritten note allegedly sent the same day to Reynolds’ chief of staff, which read, “Thank you for the phone call last Friday informing me of my salary increase.”

The latter note suggests the pay hike referenced in both 2020 messages is unrelated to the unauthorized pay increase, which was still in effect but had been initiated in 2019.

Asked why it took Reynolds’ office 105 days to turn over the three records it provided, Boal did not respond.

Reynolds’s office has yet to comply with two other Capital Dispatch requests for documents:

Auction records: On April 8, the news organization asked Reynolds’ spokesman for any legal opinions the office obtained about the legality of the governor auctioning off a meal with herself at the governor’s mansion to benefit a private, Christian school in Des Moines. Reynolds’ staff never responded to that request and never responded to an April 14 follow-up inquiry. After a May 5 follow-up, the governor’s spokesman said the request had been routed to Boal. On May 17, the Capital Dispatch asked about the status of its request. The governor’s office has not responded.

Bonus pay: On July 22, the Capital Dispatch asked Reynolds’ staff for a copy of the written agreement the state had with former Iowa Department of Homeland Security Director Paul Trombino regarding his retention bonus. Trombino had kept almost $17,000 in retention-bonus payments after remaining on the job just 19 weeks. Before he quit, Reynolds’ chief of staff had informed Trombino in writing that he was “required to sign an agreement to continue employment for a specified period of time following receipt of payment.” But the governor’s office has not responded to the Capital Dispatch’s request for a copy of that agreement and has not responded when asked whether such an agreement existed.

Although Reynolds’ office is subject to the Iowa Open Records Law, enforcement is problematic. The Office of Ombudsman and the Iowa Public Information Board field citizen complaints about information access, but neither of them has any jurisdiction over the governor’s office.

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Clark Kauffman
Clark Kauffman

Deputy Editor Clark Kauffman has worked during the past 30 years as both an investigative reporter and editorial writer at two of Iowa’s largest newspapers, the Des Moines Register and the Quad-City Times. He has won numerous state and national awards for reporting and editorial writing. His 2004 series on prosecutorial misconduct in Iowa was named a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize for Investigative Reporting. From October 2018 through November 2019, Kauffman was an assistant ombudsman for the Iowa Office of Ombudsman, an agency that investigates citizens’ complaints of wrongdoing within state and local government agencies.

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