$2.2 Million Judgment Fallout: Governor Suggests Outside Investigation, Unclear If It Will Happen

Kirsten Anderson (WHO-HD)

DES MOINES, Iowa–Iowa Governor Kim Reynolds agreed Wednesday that an outside investigation could be good practice following the $2.2 million judgement awarded to a former Statehouse staffer who said she got fired after complaining about enduring sexual harassment at the workplace. Senate Majority Leader Bill Dix later sent out a statement that said his office has indeed sought some outside help, but it is unclear whether that will change the focus of the investigation into inappropriate behavior by some state workers.

Last month, a jury awarded the judgement to Kirsten Anderson who had served as the communications director for the Senate Republican Caucus. She claimed that she laid out instances where she was forced to endure inappropriate language and images on computers from co-workers.

Dix, who now leads the office, initially said Charlie Smithson, the secretary of the senate, would lead an investigation into whether discipline is needed for any workers involved in Anderson's complaints. But some Democrats complained that Smithson is essentially a political appointee who serves at the pleasure of Senate Republican leadership. So they questioned whether he can conduct a true investigation of the office, especially if it confirms troubling behavior under Dix's leadership.

Governor Reynolds told reporters at her weekly news conference that outside assistance with the matter could be beneficial. She said if her office had troubling allegations of its own, she would seek human resources guidance from the Department of Administrative Services and that could, perhaps, also be a suggestion for Senate Republicans. "I think it's always appropriate," Reynolds said of DAS assistance, "and it's not a bad idea for an outside individual like that to review the situation and report back."

Late Wednesday afternoon, Dix's office sent out a statement:

“On the advice of the Attorney General’s office on July 27, 2017, the Secretary of the Senate contacted the Department of Administrative Services (DAS) to begin the process of entering into a contractual relationship between the Iowa Senate and the department to provide human resources services to the Iowa Senate. As an agency of the executive branch, separate from the legislative branch, DAS did not have a contractual relationship with the Iowa Senate to provide these services. In compliance with the governmental accounting standards, a contractual relationship must be established prior to the delivery of services and reimbursement of services rendered.

As I have stated previously, harassment of all types will not be tolerated in the Iowa Senate. It will be a safe working environment. Action was immediately taken to investigate issues which arose during the recent trial and had not been investigated and that process is ongoing. Once a contractual relationship has been established, DAS will provide those human resources services to the Iowa Senate. I look forward to working with DAS to ensure a safe working environment exists for all employees.”

Any potential contractual relationship between Senate Republicans and DAS has not been finalized, though. So it is unclear whether DAS will eventually take the lead into an outside investigation into Dix's office or whether Smithson will continue to head the efforts of the internal investigation.