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FOIA reveal: Governor shields ally and agency in alleged harassment case

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When Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds abruptly fired a longtime friend and political ally last month, she said it was due to “credible” sexual harassment allegations. But her staff said no other information would be available about the behavior of Iowa Finance Authority Director Dave Jamison.

Statehouse reporter Barbara Rodriguez and Iowa City correspondent Ryan J. Foley knew there was more to the story, and after talking with sources they filed FOIA requests for all correspondence and documentary evidence of the allegations that were submitted to the governor’s office. After a month, the office told them there were no such records, prompting a rare case where reporting the denial would be newsworthy: that there was no evidence, no correspondence and no investigation into the allegations before Jamison was terminated.

Hours after that story moved, the governor’s office acknowledged they had made a mistake. There was a written detailed complaint against Jamison that it had been shielding. But the office insisted it was a confidential personnel record exempt from FOIA.

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Iowa Finance Authority Director Dave Jamison is seen during an interview with KCCI-TV in Des Moines. Jamison was fired in March by Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds, who initially rejected calls for a broader investigation but later approved an investigation into reported problems at the agency where Jamison allegedly sexually harassed female employees for years without consequence. – KCCI-TV via AP

The subsequent story by Rodriguez and Foley made numerous front pages on Iowa newspapers,and other members matched their story and credited the AP for breaking the news. Newspapers and public information advocates also weighed in,criticizing Reynolds for not releasing a redacted complaint to shield the victim. As the Quad-City Times in Davenport put it: “Monday’s cynical assault on Iowa’s transparency law was the political ploy of a first-time governor in re-election mode.”

Rodriguez and Foley didn’t stop there. They appealed the denial, leading the governor’s office to reverse course again and release the document,which immediately caused a firestorm.

It showed that Jamison had allegedly been harassing female subordinates for years with remarks and behaviors that the governor called “disgusting and abhorrent.” The document also made clear that senior officials in the agency were aware of his behavior but apparently didn’t report it – which led to calls for an independent investigation. The governor initially rejected those calls but as pressure built, she announced she had hired a prominent outside lawyer to conduct such an investigation.

None of which would have happened if Rodriguez and Foley hadn’t filed the FOIA and pursued the records after they were denied.

For aggressive reporting that shed light on accusations of sexual misconduct by a public official – including the lack of transparency surrounding the charges – the pair shares this week’s Best of the States award.

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