The blame game over excessive salaries at a central Iowa job training program continues. Sixty-seven-year-old Karen Tesdell, the fired accountant for the Central Iowa Employment and Training Consortium, testified Tuesday before the Legislative Oversight Committee. Tesdell said her income — fueled by big bonuses — didn’t ramp up until chief operating officer John Bargman started at the agency. “It wasn’t up to me to authorize salaries or bonuses,” Tesdell said.
Legislators asked Tesdell if she’d been pressured to lay the blame for the pay on Bargman rather than CIETC CEO Ramona Cunningham. “I’ve talked to Ramona a couple of times but nobody’s told me what to say,” Tesdell said. “They know better.”
Tesdell’s the first of the top three CIETC managers to testify without an attorney at her side and legislators thanked her for giving what they called “frank answers.” However, Legislative Oversight Committee co-chair Ron Wieck says despite Tesdelll’s grandmotherly appearance, she had to know something was amiss at CIETC. “I don’t truly understand how you could work in an operation for 20 years and not understand what was happening when suddenly you were getting 14, 15 percent bonuses,” Wieck says.
Tesdell told the committee the bonuses look excessive in hindsight, but at the time she received them she found nothing amiss. “Looking back at it, no, I guess not,” Tesdell said. “I guess I like money just as well as the next.”
Legislators had trouble tracking Tesdell down. Several certified letters sent to her home could not be delivered as no one answered the door. Tesdell says she was staying at her “second home” and contacted lawmakers as soon as a friend told her the committee wanted her to testify. Wieck, the committee co-chair, says the panel is poised to issue its first subpeona in the on-going investigation of wrong-doing in the agency.
Former CIETC board member Dan Albritton is refusing to testify. “This could be a landmark, historical thing if we have to issue this subpeona,” Wieck says. As far as Wieck knows, no legislative committee in Iowa has ever had to resort to issuing a subpeona to get someone to testify.