Former Iowa Governor Tom Vilsack says he was not aware of any confidential settlements involving state employees during his two terms as Iowa’s chief executive. Officials from the Iowa Department of Administrative Services say they searched through 45 boxes of settlements during Vilsack’s tenure and found five.
“I’m not sure that they actually occurred during my administration,” Vilsack said this morning during taping of Iowa Public Television’s “Iowa Press” program. “The folks who I trust to know about this have indicated they were unaware of any such settlements. It may very well be that there were, but I’m not convinced that there are.”
The issue of confidential settlements with state workers in Republican Governor Terry Branstad’s administration has been hotly debated at the statehouse, as three recently laid off state workers testified this week they were offered extra money in their settlement packages if they agreed to keep the terms of the deals secret. The agency’s director on Thursday denied there was any “hush money” and Vilsack, a Democrat who served as governor from January of 1999 to January of 2006, said there was none offered during his time in office either.
“I think the focus needs to be on the future and I think Governor Branstad made the right call in basically saying: ‘No more of this,'” Vilsack said.
The term “state employee” is broad, according to Vilsack, because it also includes people who work at the University of Iowa Hospitals and Vilsack said in some instances patients or doctors ask for settlements to be kept confidential.
“I don’t know if that’s involved in this or not,” Vilsack said. “I just don’t know, but I do know this: I’m very confident that we weren’t paying people to remain silent about their concerns about state government and their treatment in state government.”
Vilsack told reporters he’s willing to review the five settlements to determine the reasons for the confidentiality clauses.
“My view is you want to look forward, you don’t want to look back,” Vilsack said. “If you’re looking back because you want to even the score, then that’s politics and I don’t think that that’s a particularly helpful exercise. If you’re looking back because you want to determine under what circumstances things like this could occur so that you can be wary of them, there may be a legitimate reason for doing that, but I don’t think it’s about saying, ‘Well, we did an X number and somebody else did Y number, then it’s not a problem.'”
Branstad’s top staffers found 24 cases in which former state workers were paid confidential settlements over the past three years. The Department of Administrative Services reports eight were executed during former Governor Chet Culver’s four-year administration. Senate Republicans this week pressed to review records dating back to January, 1999 — the month Vilsack took office. House Republicans have proposed going back to 2004, which would cover the final two years of Vilsack’s tenure.