The Ottumwa Courier

Southeast Iowa

March 17, 2014

State of Iowa made secret payouts to ex-workers

DES MOINES, Iowa (AP) — The state of Iowa has paid more than $282,000 in secret settlements to six former employees over the last three years.

All were asked to sign confidentiality agreements that would have kept the settlements out of public view, according to the Des Moines Register (http://dmreg.co/1hoTbPf ). The settlements then were shuffled through state agencies, avoiding the typical process of being approved by and made public through the Iowa State Appeal Board.

The newspaper obtained them through Iowa's open-records law.

The employees held positions ranging from a public health supervisor to a design engineer. They were considered merit-based employees, which gives them the ability to move into other available state jobs ahead of workers with less experience. The workers contend they would have kept their jobs if the state hadn't violated workplace employment practices.

The newspaper found most of the settlements had tightly worded confidentially clauses to prohibit the former employees from discussing the settlements, or the facts and circumstances that led to their payout.

The state offered two former employees thousands of dollars more if they would sign agreements mandating their secrecy. Carol Frank, a former construction and design engineer who was laid off in September 2011, said she received an additional $5,000 for agreeing to a confidentiality clause.

Confidentiality clauses are discouraged by the U.S. Department of Justice because they quash openness in government. The American Bar Association in 2012 discouraged confidentiality in settlements, saying they're "bad for clients, bad for lawyers and bad for the legal system" because they "prohibit the public from knowing about systemic wrongful conduct."

Geoff Greenwood, a spokesman for the Iowa attorney general, said his office was not involved in writing the settlement agreements. The attorney general's office believes the confidentiality clauses are not enforceable under Iowa law because the settlements are public records, Greenwood said.

Dean Ibsen, another former construction engineer for the state, said he refused to sign an agreement that included a confidentiality clause, even though representatives of the Iowa Department of Administrative Services offered him more money.

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Information from: The Des Moines Register, http://www.desmoinesregister.com

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