Governor Chet Culver has asked the new head of his Rebuild Iowa Office to reduce the salaries of employees in that office.
Some legislators have complained about the highly-paid Rebuild Iowa Office staff and today the governor met with retired General Ron Dardis, the new Rebuild Iowa Office executive director, to chat about that. "There will be significant changes to that budget that was presented to the legislature," Culver said of the salaries. "It’ll be scaled back significantly and those salaries will be adjusted downward."
While Culver says he has been "disappointed in some of the decisions" made by Rebuild Iowa Office staff, he also defends the office. Culver compares its response to Iowa’s natural disasters to the response of the State of Texas to Hurricane Rita, which struck the Gulf Coast in 2005. "RIO has gotten national recognition for being a very supportive structure, to help in recovery efforts," Culver says. "For example…(in) Texas it took years for Community Development Block Grant money to get on the street. In Iowa, we did it in four months."
Culver’s headed to Washington, D.C. later this week for the National Governors Association winter meeting and he’s taking the new Rebuild Iowa Office director with him. The two men have an appointment at the Department of Housing and Urban Davelopment, as Culver says HUD has $4 billion that could be used by flood victims. "We’re going to put together a very detailed ‘ask’ for Iowa," Culver says. "We’re also going to need waivers."
Culver says he’s made an "important move" in putting Dardis in charge at the Rebuild Iowa Office, as the former head of the Iowa National Guard has the "stature" to run the office in the next phase of recovery from the floods. Emily Hajek, the office chief of staff, told legislators two weeks ago the office had so far fielded over 2500 phone calls and email from individuals and governments hit by last year’s natural disasters. The figure raised eyebrows, since the office has been operating for over half a year — meaning Rebuild Iowa Office staff dealt with about 20 calls and email each business day.
As for that figure, Culver says it is a "great question" to wonder about the workload. "And I’ve said that I think it is important that (legislators) ask these questions and that they get answers," Culver says.