Governor Culver has suspended the state’s film tax credit program and the head of the Department of Economic Development has abruptly resigned.  D.E.D. director Mike Tramontina wrote a memo on Wednesday, telling the board that governs the agency as well as the governor’s top aides that D.E.D. managers were “investigating several reported irregularities in the handling of the Film program.”

 Tramontina asked an outside C.P.A. to sift through program files after it was discovered a filmmaker got tax credits for the purchase of a Mercedes and a Land Rover that were not used in making their movie.

Tramontina’s memo indicates records for the program were “inadequate” and “a custom database that had been built within the past year specifically to keep track of film projects and their status was never used.”  Tramontina put Tom Wheeler, the program’s manager, on paid administrative leave for seven days and announced a new Film Office Director would be hired. 

But late this afternoon the governor’s staff issued a terse news release saying the governor had accepted D.E.D. director Tramontina’s resignation. The governor has ordered the state’s film, television and video promotion program suspended until “all reasonable questions about the administration of this program are answered.”  State

Senator Tom Courtney, a Democrat from Burlington, is a non-voting member of the state’s Economic Development Board.  He says it’s clear Wheeler, the program’s manager, “dropped the ball.”

“He was at the crux of this thing,” Courtney says.  “He was the one that was in charge of it.  He was the one that was supposed to be taking care of it.” 

Tax credits have been extended to 20 film projects.  Three are currently being filmed in the Des Moines area; another is being filmed in Council Bluffs. Courtney says it’s a good program that has gone awry.

“This is a good thing for Iowa.  You know, we’re getting some good movies out here and a lot of people have said, ‘This is a great deal that you’re doing here,'” Courtney says.  “But like anything else oversight is key to this thing. You’ve just got to watch everything and see that it’s done correctly. I think maybe we missed the boat a little bit here.” 

As for the abrupt resignation of the director of the Department of Economic Development, Courtney says Tramontina’s exit was appropriate.

“The department director’s in charge of everything.  They’re responsible for everything,” Courtney says.  “As soon as the governor’s office found out about it, they did the appropriate thing.” 

Tramontina, the D.E.D. director who resigned today, served as former Governor Tom Vilsack’s budget director and Governor Culver asked Tramontina to move to directing the state’s economic development policy.  Tramontina is also a former manager of the Iowa Finance Authority, which coordinates first-time homebuyer and other housing programs.  He served as deputy state treasurer years ago, helping create the “Great Iowa Treasure Hunt” which helps people find their unclaimed property.  Tramontina, a Sioux City native, has also worked in investment banking.