Governor Tom Vilsack has fired the top two Iowa Workforce Development agency officials in connection with what he calls the “excessive” salaries paid to managers of a central Iowa job training program.
Vilsack says he decided Tuesday that Workforce Development director Richard Running and deputy director Jane Barto had to go because they failed to act when they were first told about the salaries, and he accepted their resignations Wednesday.
“It appears clear that those individuals were put on notice of questions or irregularities or issues involving the salaries,” Vilsack says. “Had they gotten to the facts, any reasonable person would assume that these salaries were excessive.”
At issue are the salaries paid to managers of the Central Iowa Employment and Training Consortium. The group ran a federally-funded job training programs. While a board of local officials from seven central Iowa counties had direct authority, the state agency Running and Barto headed was to oversee the program. Vilsack says in the course of an investigation conducted by his own staff, it became clear Running and Barto had been told about the $360,000 salaries in November, and did not act.
“Not a single person on the face of this earth can justify these salaries especially when they were taken from people who need services, who are down-and-out on their luck and need help,” Vilsack says.
Vilsack says it’s likely others in the state agency will lose their jobs as the review continues. But Vilsack says the whistleblower in the agency who came forward to spotlight the excesses will be keeping his job.
“State workers who report abuses of public funds should never expect that state managers will ignore their concerns and that state managers should in fact investigate and ask the right questions,” Vilsack says. “I can assure you there will never be any retaliation of any kind against any state worker who is a good steward of public funds.”
Vilsack has asked the Attorney General to work with the State Auditor and the Polk County Attorney to try to recover some of the money spent on salaries. Vilsack says while the state’s responsibility was to monitor, other local elected officials had the ultimate authority to approve and authorize the salaries in question.
“I sincerely hope that they are held fully accountable,” Vilsack says. Des Moines City Councilman Archie Brooks was the person who signed off on the managers’ contracts.
Legislators who’ve been raising questions about the controversy say they’re pleased the governor has taken action. But Senator Pat Ward, a Republican from West Des Moines who leads a committee that writes the Iowa Workforce Development agency’s budget, isn’t going to quit asking questions.
“I believe the resignations are just a first step in an on-going investigation,” Ward says.
Running and Barto testified before the Legislative Oversight Committee Wednesday and maintained they hadn’t known about the excessive salaries until the state auditor’s report was released last week.
Representative Dwayne Alons, a Republican from Hull, says the governor took the right steps because it would appear Running and Barto weren’t telling the truth. He says the two “were not doing their jobs.”
State Auditor Dave Vaught says Vilsack took the right steps in firing Running and Barto.
“I had a great deal of concern about Ms. Barto and how honest she was being and how she tried to stop our investigation,” Vaudt says. Vaudt says he’ll work with the governor, the legislature and federal officials to try to find a way to recover the misspent funds and to develop proceedures to ensure it doesn’t happen again.