The head of the Iowa Ethics and Campaign Disclosure Board is recommending Iowa’s ethics laws get a thorough review in the wake of the pay scandal at a central Iowa job training program. Charlie Smithson says lawmakers should also provide training for people who serve on government boards.
Smithson says some educational materials would be a good idea for people who serve on boards and commissions, especially information about open records and open-meetings laws and the concept of public trust, “so they know up front some of what’s required of them.” Smithson says it’s not clear if the current laws cover “quasi-governmental” agencies like the Central Iowa Employment and Training Consortium that aren’t part of state government, but are to be overseen by a state agency.
Smithson says it should be clear who’ll enforce laws and operating standards. Current rules and regulations are “kind of obtusely written,” according to Smithson, who says lawmakers should make sure they’re understandable. “When you’re dealing with ethics, I don’t think you want grey areas,” Smithson says. “I think we need to know everyone knows the rules up front and I think that ensures compliance.”
Representative Clel Baudler, a Republican from Greenfield, says the next step should be writing legislation that bans all bonuses for people hired to work at government and quasi-government agencies. “If they want to use (bonuses) as a new tool, they can find a new tool,” Baulder says. “This is creating an atmosphere in state government that, quite frankly, the taxpayers look at as wrong.”
Baudler knows a bonus was part of the agreement when Mike Blouin was hired to be state economic development director and Bauder concedes it’s a challenge to hire good state agency leaders when the private industry offers higher pay than the state’s allowed to offer. “If some people say they’re worth more, we pay ’em more right up front, we don’t go in the system and dance around the subject and come up with a phony in my opinion job-retention bonus,” Baudler says. He labels Vilsack’s practice of awarding a million dollars worth of bonuses over the past two years “bogus.”
Baudler says he’d like to see anti-bonus legislation drafted in time for a special session this summer, but if it’s not he still wants it on the table for the regular legislative session in January.