WEST DES MOINES, Iowa – The former head of the Iowa Department of Human Services spoke more in-depth Thursday about why he feels he was wrongfully terminated in June.
Jerry Foxhoven answered questions from reporters about his claims at a news conference alongside his attorney, Tom Duff. They both also commented on a complaint they plan to file with the Iowa Appeals Board that will likely lead to a lawsuit against the state for wrongful termination. They claim Foxhoven was a whistleblower and was let go because he pushed back on doing something he thought was illegal.
Foxhoven says he raised concerns about an MOU(Memorandum of Understanding) that designated part of a state employee’s salary should be paid by DHS. That employee, Paige Thorson, had originally worked in DHS on issues relating to Medicaid but had transitioned to be Gov. Kim Reynold’s Deputy Chief of Staff.
He says he contacted Sara Craig Gongol, the Chief of Staff to Gov. Reynolds, about the issue.
“Some time before the…early in the last legislative session I made it pretty clear to the governor’s chief of staff that I felt they oughta just get funding for their staff person, at that time we were paying for Paige Thorson’s…a good portion of her salary. That I didn’t think…while it made sense in the past…her role was moving less and less in that direction,” said Foxhoven.
The appropriation was approved and Foxhoven says he thought that would solve the problem and DHS would no longer be paying part of Thorson’s salary. But when he contacted Craig Gongol about it again ahead of the start of the 2020 fiscal year, he says, “I reached out to Sarah the governor’s chief of staff and told her, because as we were preparing for next year, ‘so we’re not going to pay that salary anymore right,’ and she clearly said ‘yeah we still expect you to and maybe then some and more than that.’”
Foxhoven says he expressed his concern that it might not be legal to pay her with funds designated for Medicaid within DHS. According to Foxhoven, her response was “you need to do it.”
Uncomfortable with proceeding without an assurance from legal counsel that the move was legal, Foxhoven told her he wanted to hear from the Governor’s lawyer or the Attorney General’s Office on the matter.
Foxhoven informed Craig Gongol that he would send an e-mail about the matter to the assistant attorney generals working for DHS, once the current trial they were working on was concluded. He expected that to be June 18th or 19th.
In a meeting on June 17th, Foxhoven was asked to resign. He believes the termination was wrongful and because he was seeking legal counsel about the MOU involving Paige Thorson, which he believed violated the law.
“And so they knew that I was going to be sending an email to the attorney general’s office on Tuesday. Monday they told me your position is over, give me your key card and your cell phone, don’t go back to your office.”
The governor’s office claims Foxhoven did not bring his concerns to them and he was asked to resign because Gov. Reynolds wanted to go in a different direction.
Foxhoven denies those claims and says though he didn’t speak to the Governor directly, he did make the issue known with her staff members.
Tom Duff says filing a complaint with the Iowa Board of Appeals is the first step toward filing a lawsuit against the state. He says after six months, the complaint can be withdrawn and a petition in the lawsuit can be filed. He doesn’t expect the case to head to trial for at least a year and a half.
Governor Kim Reynolds released this response to Foxhoven's accusations on Thursday afternoon:
“As I have consistently shared with Iowans, many factors went into my decision to ask for Jerry Foxhoven’s resignation. Foxhoven never raised concerns with me or my staff about the salary agreements in question, and he never asked my staff for a legal opinion or said he would be reaching out to the Attorney General’s office for one. I would never ask anyone to do something they thought was illegal. My focus remains on the many Iowans that DHS serves, and I am committed to selecting a new director who will take this agency to the next level.”