Gov. Reynolds says the public doesn’t have a right to know why she forced DHS director to resign

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Gov. Kim Reynolds and former Department of Human Services Director Jerry Foxhoven. — official portraits

Former Department of Human Services Director Jerry Foxhoven said last week he was forced resign after he refused a request from Gov. Kim Reynolds’ staff “to do something I thought was illegal.” Foxhoven has not explained what that request was, and in an interview aired on Monday, Reynolds told KCRG she doesn’t think the public has the right to know why she forced Foxhoven out.

“No, I’m just not going to get into that,” Reynolds said when asked why she wanted Foxhoven’s resignation. “I just don’t think that that’s healthy and there’s no reason to do that.”

The reporter then asked, “Does the public deserve to know what you’re looking at when you’re making those decisions?”

“I don’t think so,” Reynolds said. “I think it will demonstrate, if you look at the agency and some of the changes that we’re looking at.” [sic]

Foxhoven resigned on June 17. The governor’s office has never disputed that Foxhoven was forced to resign, but has refused to explain why.

“There are a lot of factors that went into that decision,” Reynolds said two days after Foxhoven resigned. “I’m not going to get into them.”

Foxhoven’s resignation attracted national attention last week, when the Associated Press reported Foxhoven frequently used Tupac Shakur lyrics (such as “Pay no mind to those who talk behind your back. It simply means that you are 2 steps ahead”) as inspirational quotes in emails to his DHS staff. He also held “Tupac Fridays,” in which staffers were invited into his office to listen to the rapper’s music.

“I’m a 66-year-old white guy from the Midwest who likes rap music, who likes Tupac!” Foxhoven told NPR following the AP report.

Foxhoven said he shared his interest in Tupac to “reach out to our staff, tell them that I’m human, have a little levity,”

It was Foxhoven’s love of Tupac that led to an interview with Pitchfork, an online music magazine. During that interview, Foxhoven made his first and only public comments about why he lost his job.

“[Reynolds’] staff asked me to do something that I thought was illegal and I wouldn’t do it and so they said, ‘O.K., well then you need to go,’” Foxhoven told Pitchfork.

He didn’t say what he’d been asked to do, but explained, “I was concerned about the legality of what they asked. I was concerned and said I wouldn’t do it without a legal opinion.”

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Foxhoven said he wasn’t given a chance to get that opinion.

“We have no idea what former Director Foxhoven is referring to,” Reynolds’ spokesperson Pat Garrett said in a statement about Foxhoven’s claim.

The governor’s office also says it has no written records regarding the decision to fire Foxhoven. In response to an open records request from the Des Moines Register, Michael Boal, deputy legal counsel for Reynolds, said there were no “documented reasons and rationale” related to Foxhoven’s resignation.

Given that Foxhoven was in charge of a state agency with a budget of $6.5 billion and almost 5,000 employees, and was responsible for overseeing Iowa’s Medicaid privatization program, the assertion that there are no written records — even emails — about his dismissal strikes many as unlikely.

Democratic members of the Iowa legislature have called for an investigation of what happened to Foxhoven, but on Monday, House Speaker Linda Upmeyer, a Republican from Clear Lake, said that won’t happen.

“The former director’s vague comment to a music publication has not come with any other details,” Upmeyer said in a written statement. “I would not have our chairwoman of the Oversight Committee initiate an investigation when the former director has declined to elaborate.”

The Gazette reported on Monday that Foxhoven is still declining to answer questions about what possibly illegal thing the Reynolds’ administration wanted him to do, but the former director did give “an interview to a special agent of the Office of Inspector General of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.”

“He also has agreed to participate in an interview with State Auditor Rob Sand, and has spoken to a Republican House member and a Republican Senator,” the Gazette reported.

Foxhoven didn’t say which Republican legislators he spoke to.

Sand said his interview with Foxhoven has not yet been scheduled, but the interview would be “one part of getting an understanding of what is going on at the Governor’s Office.”

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