Governor Terry Branstad says he and his staff disregarded the warning from a former state government lawyer because one of Branstad’s agency directors insisted there had been no “hush money” payments to terminated state employees who agreed to keep their exit packages secret. Branstad says former Iowa Department of Administrative Services attorney Ryan Lamb had twice before denied such evidence existed.
“Then, when (Lamb) called and said there may be something, but he wasn’t sure, we then contacted Mike Carroll and Mike Carroll assured us there were no payments in return for confidentiality,” Branstad says.
Branstad publicly defended Carroll, who was director of the Iowa Department of Administrative Services at the time, then Carroll told legislators in April that no “hush money” payments had been made. After email was released by a private attorney involved in the negotiations showing there had been, Branstad fired Carroll. Last week Carroll told legislators he had been assured by the agency’s new lawyer — who is now its director — that no such email evidence existed. Branstad chief of staff Matt Hinch says the email was later found by the agency.
“It’s my understanding that (the Department of Administrative Services) utilized the chief information officer to go back through a separate email vault that did include the email,” Hinch says.
The former government attorney who negotiated many of the confidential settlement agreements with terminated employees told legislators last week that the governor’s lawyer had been briefed on the agreements. Today, Brenna Findley — the governor’s legal counsel — was asked if she had read any of the contracts before their existence was made public in The Des Moines Register in mid-March.
“I did not review, sign off, approve any of the settlement agreements that had confidentiality clauses in them,” Findley told reporters. “…I was not aware that they were included in these agreements.”
Findley, along with the governor’s chief of staff and budget director, conducted a review after the issue of confidential settlements surfaced and told Branstad in late March that no documents or email existed indicating money had been paid terminated employees for silence about the deals and Branstad defended their work today.
“We don’t have time to review every single record that there might be,” Branstad told reporters. “…There are millions of records in state government and there’s no way for us to possibly know what’s in everything and we rely on information that is provided to us by the people that are in charge of those departments and agencies.”
In addition to the executive order Branstad issued in March to prevent confidential settlement agreements with terminated state employees in the future, Branstad has been pressing the legislature to pass a law that would make more details about state employee records open for public review.
Branstad, Findley and Hinch made their comments today during the governor’s weekly news conference. The audio of the news conference may be found here.