The woman at the center of a controversy involving a central Iowa job training program is offering no apologies for the six-figure pay she received.
Central Iowa Employment and Training Consortium C-E-O Ramona Cunningham testified today (Tuesday) before a legislative committee, describing herself as a woman who has pulled herself up the ladder of success.
“I have a G.E.D. I started as a secretary. I worked my way through the system,” Cunningham says. “I feel that I am very qualified for the job.”
Cunningham says she wrote her own contract a couple of years ago, and denied that she kept the board of elected officials from eight central Iowa counties in the dark about the details. “I provided the full board all the reports and the employment agreements,” Cunningham says. “So they were very aware of those employment agreements and if they were not aware of the language, it is because they did not read them.”
Des Moines City Councilman Archie Brooks, the board chair who signed off on the pay packages for Cunningham and two other top managers, admitted he failed to adequately “oversee and monitor” Cunningham and the agency. In a prepared statement Brooks said while his failures have brought him “personal embarrassment,” he hopes they will not jeopardize the program’s future because its job-training function is critically needed.
During a brief question-and-answer session with legislators, Brooks confirmed that his brother was hired by CIETC a few years ago when Brooks was not on the city council or CIETC board, but his step-daughter was hired — on his recommendation — when Brooks served as board chairman. “It was probably not a good decision to do,” Brooks said. “But it’s a good employee. They show up for work. They do a good job but in hindsight, yes, it was probably not a good decision.”
Brooks denied having an ongoing personal relationship with Cunningham. “When I was off the (CIETC) board, not on the Des Moines City Council and my wife and I separated, we went out for one date and subsequently I figured out that was the only woman I knew and I (never) took her out again,” Brooks told legislators. “But if you ever had to go through a personal trauma like that, you do certain things but I was not on the board and never have had dinner or anything after that (with Cunningham).”
While Cunningham defended her $360,000 salary and bonuses, legislators told her it was “outlandish” and “greedy.” Senator Tom Courtney, a Democrat from Burlington, put it to Cunningham this way. “Does it make sense to you, though, that when there are a lot of Iowans getting by on $20,000 a year that your salary of 30 or 40 times that seems a bit outrageous?” Courtney asked. Cunningham didn’t back down.
Cunningham told Courtney she had received positive job evaluations, ran an agency that did “wonderful things” and no one had raised questions about her salary before the auditor’s report. “I guess I’m surprised that why it all of a sudden became a problem,” Cunningham said.
Representative Cindy Lou Winckler, a Democrat from Davenport, chided Cunningham. “My concern is the people who desperately needed the help might not have benefited as a result of these salaries being paid,” Winckler said. The Legislative Oversight Committee intends to meet again Wednesday morning and has invited Brooks back to answer questions and hinted Cunningham may be asked to return as well.