Reynolds’ lawyer apologizes for withholding email but remains silent on record request

By: - September 20, 2021 5:01 pm

Domes at the Iowa Capitol. (Photo by Kathie Obradovich/Iowa Capital Dispatch)

After apologizing for the failure to publicly disclose an email pertaining to the fired head of the Iowa Veterans Home, the legal counsel for Gov. Kim Reynolds has not responded to a follow-up request for documents.

Reynolds fired IVH Commandant Timon Oujiri without explanation in early May after state officials concluded he had collected $105,413 in improper, excess compensation since 2019. 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 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 about his pay, 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 records.

On Aug. 23, the governor’s legal counsel, Michael Boal, wrote to the Capital Dispatch, and provided three documents: Two 2019 messages Oujiri sent to Reynolds and her chief of staff, Sara Craig, shortly after the unauthorized pay increase took effect, thanking them for the pay hike, and a May 2021 email Oujiri sent to Craig hours before he was fired, saying, “I am very sorry for not questioning my increase. I am terribly sorry to embarrass you and the governor.”

At that time he shared those documents, Boal said the governor’s office was not withholding any records relevant to the Capital Dispatch’s document requests.

However, Boal did not turn over or disclose an email dated Dec.18, 2020, that Oujiri sent to Craig. That particular email suggests the governor’s office was unaware of Oujiri’s actual pay when it offered him a pay raise. It also suggests Oujiri refused the raise.

In part, the email says:

“Thank you for the phone call this morning. I am humbled, honored and very pleasantly surprised. Thank you. I would like to offer instead of my compensation increase, could we bump up Penny Cutler-Bermudez, Licensed Nursing Home Administrator, and Karen Connell, Operations Executive Administrator? They have worked tirelessly to ensure IVH has been successful in keeping our residents, staff and families safe.”

The existence of that email became public only when Oujiri’s attorney, Alison F. Kanne, disclosed it. One day after that happened, on Aug, 31, Boal told the Capital Dispatch the email “was not intentionally withheld” by Reynolds’ office, and he apologized for the “mistake.”

In response, the Capital Dispatch asked Boal for all email and text exchanges, since May 1, between himself and Sara Craig on the issue of the commandant’s pay.

Boal has never responded to that request.

The governor’s spokesman, Alex Murphy, declined on Monday to say why the governor’s office never acknowledged or replied to the document request. He said the Aug. 31 request was still being “processed” and the governor’s office would be back in touch if it had any questions for the Capital Dispatch.

The governor’s office is subject to the disclosure requirements of the Iowa Open Records Law, but enforcement is problematic, partly because the office isn’t subject to oversight by the Iowa Public Information Board or the Iowa Office of Ombudsman.

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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.