Since 2011, state department heads have secretly given $420,000 to 24 fired workers.
The secret agreements involved 12 state agencies with the bulk coming from the Department of Administrative Services.
As part of the settlement agreements employees agreed to drop grievances against the state. In exchange some of the workers were given reference letters from the state and allowed to work at other state agencies.
Governor Branstad says secret settlements were used by past administrations but he had no knowledge his own administration was using them as well.
“Confidentially provisions that prevent disclosure of agreements are wrong," Branstad said. “What really galls me is that when the people are kept in the dark and as a result of that, they suspect bad things are going on."
Branstad issued an executive order banning secret settlements. Though he's against them, Branstad says the fired employees resulted in $720,000 in annual savings.
Heads will roll
"By my executive order it is illegal and if happens again there's going to be heads rolling," Branstad warned.
But no heads are rolling over the 24-secret settlements that already occurred.
Senate Democrats are calling for an audit and legislative hearings.
“We take oversight very seriously and these are tax payer dollars that are going into these agreements and agreements that none of us knew about,” says State Sen. Liz Mathis of Robins.
Sen. Mathis and the Senate Appropriations Committee approved a budget amendment Monday.
It requires an audit of all money used to pay for the settlements.
“It was a natural fit to ask for an audit for any employee that had been terminated, why they had been terminated, the names and the reasons behind it,” says Sen. Mathis.
State Sen. Jack Hatch agrees.
The Democratic candidate for Governor says the public deserves to know more.
“An executive order hides the facts and eliminates the possibility of real transparency. There needs to be pure and open disclosure for each and every one of those disclosures, this is clearly payment to keep people quiet,” says Sen. Hatch.
Sen. Hatch and Sen. Mathis say an audit will help but that may be only the start.
“We need to put this in writing in terms of make an amendment, put it in Administration and Regulation where it should be and I don`t think this is the last of what you`ll be hearing about this,” says Sen. Mathis.
The Senate Oversight Committee will also be meeting to look into this in the next several weeks.