Democrats seek hearings over firing of Iowa agency head

Democratic leaders in the Iowa Legislature are calling for hearings on Gov. Kim Reynolds' refusal to explain her firing of former Iowa Department of Human Services Director Jerry Foxhoven

DES MOINES, Iowa -- Democratic leaders in the Iowa Legislature called Monday for government oversight hearings on Gov. Kim Reynolds' refusal to discuss her reasons for asking the director of the Iowa Department of Human Services to resign.

Senate and House Government Oversight Committee Democrats are calling for hearings on Jerry Foxhoven's sudden departure last month, and want him to explain what happened. Foxhoven, who managed the state's largest agency that oversees the $5 billion Medicaid program, declined to comment Monday.

"It's the constitutional duty of the Iowa Legislature to provide oversight and hold the executive branch accountable, especially in cases that involve billions of our tax dollars," said Rep. Ruth Ann Gaines, the top Democrat on the House Oversight Committee. "Iowans deserve to know the truth."

The firing of Foxhoven gained national attention last week after The Associated Press reported on the former agency director's love of the late rapper Tupac Shakur and that he was fired only days after sending an email to 4,300 state workers asking them to mark Shakur's birthday. After initially declining to say if Foxhoven's interest in Shakur led to his firing, the governor's office later said his praise of the rapper didn't factor into his dismissal.

Gaines called for immediate hearings including testimony from Foxhoven, a 66-year-old former law professor, to explain what happened.

Sen. Tony Bisignano said a 2017 state law requires the reason for demanding a state employee's resignation to be made public. Reynolds has declined to explain why Foxhoven was asked to resign last month beyond saying there were several factors and that she wanted to go in a different direction. Reynolds also has said her office has no documents that would shed light on Foxhoven's departure.

"Governor Reynolds has said that she wanted her administration to be one of the most honest and transparent in history. We are calling on her to be transparent, release all relevant information, and to clear up the real reasons for Jerry Foxhoven's resignation," said Bisignano, the ranking Democrat on the oversight committee.

Reynolds' office declined to comment.

Republican House Speaker Linda Upmeyer said in a statement she was not willing to call for an investigation unless Foxhoven elaborates further on his reason for leaving.

Senate Republican leader Jack Whitver said an oversight hearing is unnecessary and that Reynolds "should select department directors to best implement her priorities as a result of the mandate given to her by the people of Iowa."

State Auditor Rob Sand, a Democrat, confirmed Monday his office also is investigating.

"Anyone who is an auditor would want to know whether or not the law is being followed and if there are disputes about what the law is, it's certainly an important question to have answered," he said.