Jerry Foxhoven files a $2 million wrongful termination complaint against the Reynolds administration

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Video still of Jerry Foxhoven on Iowa Public Television.

Jerry Foxhoven filed a formal complaint with the Iowa Board of Appeals on Thursday. The former director of the Iowa Department of Human Services is alleging he was wrongfully terminated and is seeking $2 million in damages from the state.

Foxhoven was forced to resign on June 17. He believes he was pushed out because he objected to using DHS funds to pay the salary of Paige Thorson, the assistant chief of staff in Gov. Kim Reynolds’ office.

“Sometime early in the last legislative session, I made it pretty clear to the governor’s chief of staff [Sara Craig Gongol] that I felt that they ought to get funding for their staff person — at that time we were paying for Paige Thorson, a good part of her salary,” Foxhoven said during a press conference on Aug. 1.

He explained that using DHS funds to pay Thorson’s salary made sense in 2018, because at that time, Thorson’s work in the governor’s office was largely focused on health care issues. But that changed this year, when Thorson became the governor’s deputy chief of staff.

“So, as we approached the new fiscal year, which would start July 1 … I reached out to Sara [Craig Gongol], the governor’s chief of staff, and told her we’re not going to pay that salary anymore,” Foxhoven said.

According to Foxhoven, Craig Gongol told him that not only was DHS expected to continue to help pay Thorson’s salary, the agency was expected to increase the amount it was diverting to her salary.

“So my response was that I was concerned that it wasn’t even legal to do that at this stage now,” Foxhoven said. He wanted a legal opinion before he’d agree to authorize the use of DHS funds.

The day before Foxhoven was scheduled to request a legal opinion from the Iowa Attorney General’s Office, he had a meeting with Craig Gongol and Sam Langholz, the governor’s legal counsel.

That meeting “was pretty short,” Foxhoven said.

“We sat down, and [Craig Gongol] said, ‘The governor’s decided to go in a different direction, and we’re going to ask for you to leave.’” Foxhoven said.

Craig Gongol asked him to turn over his keycard and his official cell phone, and told Foxhoven not to return to his DHS office.

“Sam pulled out a piece of paper, with kind of one line, ‘I hereby resign,’ asked me to sign it, and that was the end of it,” he said.

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Reynolds was asked in June why she had forced Foxhoven to resign.

“There are a lot of factors that went into that decision,” she told reporters. “I’m not going to get into them.”

Reynolds has used some variation of that response ever since. She also claims that Foxhoven never raised any concerns with her before his resignation.

Foxhoven said during his press conference that he didn’t have the opportunity to discuss his concerns Reynolds.

“I hadn’t had much communication with the governor, frankly. I don’t know that I’ve had an individual meeting with her since the election,” he said. “She wasn’t meeting directly with her directors anymore. It was her staff that was meeting with them.”

He said he had texted Reynolds earlier this year to arrange a meeting, but never got a response.

Craig Gongol has also said that Foxhoven never raised any concerns with her about using DHS funds to pay the salary of the governor’s deputy chief of staff.

“Well, she’s not telling the truth about it,” Foxhoven said. “The bottom line is that I had a phone conversation with her, and I made it very clear that I questioned whether it was legal or not.”

During Foxhoven’s press conference, his attorney, Tom Duff, said, “Firing someone because they are about to blow the whistle, or because they refuse to engage in conduct that violates the public policy of the state of Iowa [is illegal].”

Foxhoven plans to file a civil lawsuit over his termination, but state law requires him to first file a complaint with the Board of Appeals. If the board does not resolve the complaint within six months, Foxhoven can then proceed with a lawsuit.

In addition to the review that may be conducted by the Board of Review, Reynolds’ decision to fire Foxhoven will also be investigated by State Auditor Rob Sand. The Office of Inspector General of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services has also been making inquiries into the circumstances of Foxhoven’s firing.

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