A Democrat in the Iowa Senate is calling for legislators to investigate “tragic failures” in the Iowa Department of Human Services, while Republican Governor Terry Branstad today said the investigation should wait.
“Let’s not do any harm to the county attorney’s effort to bring justice to those people that were responsible. Let’s wait ’til that’s accomplished.,” Branstad told reporters.
Senator Matt McCoy, a Democrat from Des Moines, spoke with reporters about half an hour later: “We’re trying to address the real problems in the department and that’s what he doesn’t want us to get to.”
The Iowa Department of Human Services is being criticized for failing to investigate after getting reports two teenage girls in central Iowa were being abused. The department’s also in charge of the Glenwood Resource Center, where workers were fired for abusing mentally-disabled residents. McCoy said legislators have a responsibility to ask questions, because there’s been a dramatic reduction in staff in the agency during Branstad’s tenure.
“What happened at Glenwood and what happened to Natalie and Malayia Knapp are just examples of the failure to have appropriate staffing,” McCoy said, “and the failure to take responsiblity for your actions.”
Natalie Finn died of starvation and her adoptive mother has been charged. Branstad said a legislative investigation could endanger the case.
“I think it’s terrible to play politics with the tragic death of a teenage girl,” Branstad said. “…The last thing we ought to do is have the politicians screw this up and not cause justice be done for this tragic incident.”
McCoy contends legislators are “focused on case loads.”
“We haven’t been discussing the Finn case,” McCoy said, “so for him to suggest we’re sitting in here dissecting something that relates to the Finn case is just one more example of an out-of-touch governor.”
McCoy and several other Democratic legislators met today, but the director of the Department of Human Services declined to speak with the group. McCoy accused Branstad of issuing a gag order to his agency chief, to “cover up” the “mess” in the DHS.
“He knows that he’s cut the department beyond its capacity to deal with problems,” McCoy said, “and I think he doesn’t want to take responsibility for the fact that his department is failing.”
Branstad said the last time McCoy and other Democrats held Government Oversight Committee hearings about actions in his state agencies, it didn’t pay off at the ballot box.
“We don’t need this kind of political politics being played just to gain attention over a terrible tragedy that occurred,” Branstad said during his weekly news conference.
In 2014, legislators of both parties held hearings about “hush money” payments to laid off state workers, so they wouldn’t disclose their exit settlements. The hearings led Branstad to fire the head of the agency involved in approving those payments. Branstad won re-election the following fall and, in that same 2014 election, Democrats retained majority control of the state senate.