The interim leader of a troubled central Iowa job training agency defends the practice of bonuses for the agency’s workers. Mary Gottschalk, the chief financial officer of the Central Iowa Employment and Training Consortium, says it makes sense to hand out bonuses if there’s money left at the end of a budgeting year rather than boost salaries because in following years, if there’s no extra money, the salaries won’t be inflated.
But Gottschalk says former CIETC CEO Ramona Cunningham did not spread bonus money to all workers — she kept it for herself and a chosen few. “My sense is there’s been a great deal of almost a feeling of betrayal on the part of a lot of the staff because Ramona would almost sometimes from what I was told shed tears in staff meetings about how funding was being cut and people would have to take pay cuts or couldn’t get raises,” Gottschalk says.
She says most of a $250,000 grant from Polk County taxpayers wound up providing bonuses to Cunningham, other top managers and two politically-connected employees. “Whether they were done so with the knowledge of Polk County or without the knowledge of Polk County, I would have no way of commenting on that,” Gottschalk says.
A state audit discovered Cunningham and two other top managers pulled in about $1.8 million in salaries and bonuses over an 18-month period. Gottschalk says employees who may have had an inkling that Cunningham was doing something wrong were intimidated by her. “People were afraid to say anything,” Gottschalk says. “I think there was an atmosphere of fear.”
Gottschalk says she’s “adjusted” salaries to end any appearance of favoritism toward two employees who’re related to men who served on the agency’s board of directors. Gottschalk was hired in May and she’s implemented a complete restructuring of all the salaries in the agency. That doesn’t please Senator Ron Wieck, a Republican from Sioux City who is co-chairman of the Legislative Oversight Committee.
Wieck says everything should have been frozen until another agency takes over for CIETC. “I’m wide open to having employees from CIETC apply for those jobs, but we’ve seen a number of hiring situations at CIETC where they were pretty rag tag,” Wieck says. “I want to know that if they become true government employees that we have put them through screening and the process of evaluating their abilities and know that they have the right people in those positions.”
Meanwhile, Senate Democratic Leader Mike Gronstal is calling on Republican State Auditor Dave Vaudt to fire one of his employees. Gronstal says Deb Bargman, who currently works for the auditor, installed a tracking system when she worked at CIETC that made it nearly impossible for investigators to figure out bonuses were being paid to top CIETC managers. Bargman’s husband, John, was one of the executives getting the big bonuses.