About a dozen former employees and members from the Marshalltown community aired their concerns about the manager of the Iowa Veterans Home during a statehouse hearing this afternoon.

Many called David Worley, the home’s commandant, a bully. Richard Schrad retired in 2003 after working more than 30 years at the Veterans Home. He told legislators people began contacting him to complain about Worley.

“One could say it was a bunch of whining and complaining of a few people or that this is merely about resistance to new management style and change, disgruntled employees, etc. etc. I’m here to tell you, senators, it is not,” Schrad said. “…Are the following examples o.k. for top administrators: sexual harassment and very inappropriate sexual remarks about female subordinates; verbal abuse towards residents and staff?”

Melanie Kempf, a long-term care advocate who works for the Iowa Department on Aging, met with 11 of the residents in January.

“Residents shared their concerns and they commented that the Veterans Home used to be their home, but they see it as a prison,” Kempt said. “…The residents’ perception is that the commandant is nice to residents during tours, but otherwise he is not friendly. The biggest concern that they have and continue to present to me is a fear of retaliation.”

Mike Schlesinger, publisher of the Marshalltown Times-Republican and 11 Iowa newspaper, arranged a meeting in March with seven former and current employees of the home, some of whom have filed complaints with the Iowa Department of Administrative Services.

“The stories were horrifying. The people were absolutely credible,” Schlesinger said. “…They gave examples of the commandant saying sexually harassing comments to women, comments that frankly anyone in private business would be fired for….I would hope that the governor will act in order to protect employees, residents and the State of Iowa from potential lawsuits.”

One senator directly asked Commandant Worley if he is a “dictator” and this was Worley’s response: “I can sit here and tell you 95 great-feeling stories, just like I’m sure somebody could sit here and tell you 95 stories contrary to that. What I would like is for you to come up there, see what we’re doing every day. I don’t believe that the morale is as bad as some people (describe it). It may be for those people, but I still believe that the residents are getting great quality of care.”

Worley told lawmakers he would not address “personal attacks.” According to Worley, some of the difficulties with staff could be attributed to poor communication.

“I listen and we try very hard and sometimes, as a leader, I do have to make decisions that not everybody’s going to be happy with,” Worley said.

He also cited recent federal and state inspections which did not find fault with the quality of care for the home’s 600 residents.

Colonel Todd Jacobis, chairman of the Iowa Commission on Veterans Affairs, offered a strong defense of Worley.

“There’s always a rest of the story and when issues of a sensitive nature have been brought to our attention we’ve asked David Worley about it, Jacobis said. “David Worley has always had a response that makes sense.”

The co-chair of the legislature’s Government Oversight Committee says it’s likely the panel will launch an investigation and may use its subpoena power to compel testimony from Worley and his accusers. Senator Steve Sodders, a Democrat from State Center, represents the area and he is calling on the governor to put Worley on paid administrative leave until a “real investigation” gives protection to whistleblowers.

“I even met with folks this weekend in management (at the Veterans Home) who are afraid to come forward to say anything,” Sodders said at the end of today’s hearing.

A spokesman for Governor Branstad says the governor considers Worley “a strong, effective leader at the Iowa Veterans Home.” Worley was hired in August of 2010 by former Governor Chet Culver and, after an initial evaluation, Branstad kept Worley on when Branstad took over as governor in 2011.

AUDIO of hearing, which lasted 2 hours and 23 minutes.