Senator and Governor Spar Regarding Empty Seat During Legislative Hearing

DES MOINES, Iowa  --  Things got personal and political on Monday at the Iowa Statehouse in regards to the Democratic-led investigation into the Department of Human Services.

State Senator Matt McCoy, a Des Moines Democrat, is the ranking member on the government oversight committee. He has held hearings every Monday for the past month, following two highly-publicized cases of alleged abuse of Iowa teens at the hands of their adoptive families.

Natalie Finn, of West Des Moines, died of cardiac arrest last October after nearly starving to death under the care of her adoptive parents. Malayia Knapp, of Urbandale, said she suffered severe beatings until she ran away from her adoptive mother.

Statehouse Democrats want to know if DHS workers failed to adequately look into concerns of the welfare of the two teens. They have also requested a long list of information from the DHS including whether budget cuts and staff reductions have impacted service, overtime costs due to those budget cuts, and staff caseloads.

McCoy again invited DHS officials to testify at the hearing Monday, but no one showed up. The DHS director had already notified McCoy on Thursday that this would be the case.

McCoy claims a cover-up and called for Palmer to resign.

"It is clear to me that Director Palmer refused to meet with us because he is trying to cover this up. And it is clear the governor has instructed him to not talk to lawmakers and he is trying to cover this up," McCoy alleged.

DHS responded in a statement:

"We have attended several meetings with the senator including providing a confidential briefing, provided presentations at the senator's request and made written responses. We are not able to provide the extensive, detailed information the senator made in his most recent request, and Director Palmer determined that our staff need to focus on full committee hearings during this busy time in session. 

We have corresponded numerous times, and as you know DHS cannot speak about specific cases both under Iowa's confidentiality laws and in consultation with prosecutors who are trying Natalie Finn's parents for numerous crimes against their children. We do not want to jeopardize the criminal proceedings in any way. Natalie Finn's death was tragic and we are all saddened by what this young woman suffered. DHS has taken a close look at its policies, practices and personnel and taken action accordingly. To assert that there is some type of cover-up is absolutely inaccurate, especially in light of the confidential briefings we have provided at the request of several legislative leaders. 

We are working on responding to the senator's extensive list of additional questions in the same manner that we do with all legislators, and we will fully cooperate if called by the oversight committee. Even then, we cannot share confidential, case specific information in a public venue. 

I am aware of no coaching or counseling of DHS employees not to speak to their legislators. Employees are directed through their employee handbooks that they should be clear that they are not speaking on behalf of the Department or be doing so on work time. This is a long-standing policy across many employers. What they share on their personal time with their legislator is not restricted." 

The governor's office added this statement:

"We're not interested in playing Sen. McCoy's games where he calls for fake non-hearings to score political points.  We're focused on having DHS staff and their resources attend actual hearings during this busy time in the session.  As the governor said this morning, he does not to want to jeopardize the criminal proceedings which are underway in the Natalie Finn case by the county attorney.    

As you know, DHS has been in constant contact with Sen. McCoy even going as far as providing a confidential briefing, which he did not keep confidential."