Tuesday, January 25, 2022

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Civic Skinny

Iowa P***** Radio (cont.); Nancy Sebring’s ‘underware’


Iowa Public Radio has a “commitment to openness and transparency,” lawyer Wayne Reames told The Des Moines Register the other day.


But, of course, it is not subject to the Iowa Open Meetings law, he has told Cityview, because it is not a governmental body. Sure, its licenses are held by the three state universities. Sure, its audit says “we are considered a governmental entity for financial reporting purposes.” And sure, it cited exemptions to the law when it went into closed meetings and, as the law requires, it taped those meetings. No one seems to be able to explain that.


 And now it turns out the nongovernmental body’s latest tax report — form 990 for the year 2012 — is signed not by the top executive of Iowa Public Radio but rather by Warren Madden, and where the line asks for title it says “senior vice president for business and finance.” Madden, of course, is not the senior vice president for business and finance of the nongovernmental Iowa Public Radio but rather is senior vice president for business and finance of Iowa State University, which, the last time we checked, was part of the Board of Regents, a governmental body subject to the open-meetings law.


Also, the contract of ousted chief executive officer Mary Grace Herrington refers to “University’s usual and customary payroll deductions in accordance with University’s regulations and practices applicable to Herrington’s personnel appointment.” And it says the contract is not effective until signed by a representative of Iowa State University, “which is the fiscal agent for Iowa Public Radio.”


Also, the page on the latest IPR tax return that asks for pay of highest-compensated employees of IPR lists the university salaries of Madden and the directors who represent the University of Iowa and the University of Northern Iowa. It lists the three universities as “related tax-exempt organizations,” and it discloses that a chunk of payroll at IPR is run through Iowa State and UNI. In other words, some of the employees at IPR really are employees of the state universities.

CVA_25PAGE 6Also, when Iowa Public Radio purchased two radio stations in 2011, the licenses were assigned to Iowa State University.

So employees are paid by the universities, the tax return is signed by a university official, the ousted chief had a contract referring to a university, the radio-station licenses are held by the universities, but Iowa Public Radio is not a governmental body subject to the open-meetings law, its lawyer insists.


But if it isn’t a government body, as it began arguing after going into a secret session not allowed by the law, it may well have violated Herrington’s right to privacy by discussing her personnel situation in the open. IPR chair Kay Runge — who seems to have screwed this up from beginning to middle (the end isn’t here yet) — unwisely told the Register last week that, in the Register’s words, IPR is at risk of being sued because the board publicly discussed personnel matters after it voted to terminate Herrington’s employment.

So here’s where we are: If Runge and her board had simply met in the open as a public body, discussed Herrington’s performance and fired her, they probably would have gotten off with paying her around $60,000, the remainder of her $147,000 annual salary. But by insisting it’s not a public body, IPR probably will end up settling for lots more than that and paying the legal fees of Reames, a partner at the Belin Law firm, where lawyers are pricey, as well as the fees of Herrington’s lawyer.

Footnote: Reames told the Register last week that IPR hasn’t decided if it will announce when a settlement is reached or if it will disclose details. IPR has a “commitment to openness and transparency,” he said, and hasn’t ruled out releasing some information from the agreement.

In fact, IPR cannot keep the key terms of the settlement secret. IPR is subject to the public information laws in several roundabout ways. Reames has conceded that to Cityview, and lawyers and reporters who deal with public bodies say any settlement documents reached with Herrington must be disclosed to anyone requesting them from Madden, ISU or any Regent institution. Next year’s 990 would likely reveal the amount paid to Herrington as well.

A settlement document can tell Herrington she can’t talk about the deal — if she agrees to that — but it can’t keep the deal secret. …

Speaking of high-profile women who lost their jobs….A reader suggested Cityview ask for emails between ousted Des Moines Schools Superintendent Nancy Sebring and her successor, Thomas Ahart. Phil Roeder of the district provided them, with a few deletions. It’s unclear what the Cityview reader had in mind — they’re pretty much routine — but there is a nugget or two.

Nugget: “I was sick to my stomach all day thinking about [Des Moines Register reporter] Clark Kaufman (sic) and his FOIA [Freedom of Information Act] request. I read all of the emails…there is nothing inappropriate in them but it feels like such an invasion of privacy, especially for Nina [Rasmussen, Sebring’s twin who once ran the city’s charter school] and Steve [Johns, Rasmussen’s then boyfriend and the principal at East High School]. I learned that in DMPS we only archive emails for 30 days…why in the Hell does Heartland still have these? I asked Phil [Roeder] to contact Clark Kaufman (sic) and invite him to come to my house and look through my underware (sic) drawer.”

Nugget: “FYI. My rosy picture of the impact of ACT testing in DMPS..this is the response to the Register’s request for a comment on the Blueprint and an obvious attempt to suck up to the Governor.”

Nugget after Sebring was fired: “I am in Colorado..I hope we can get together soon at our favorite bar! It would be good to catch up and share horror stories about the DM school board….”

Final nugget from the woman whose X-rated emails to her lover from her school email account made news and cost her the superintendent job in Des Moines and her potential job in Omaha: “I told her [a reporter] that I just wanted to be left out of the news for the rest of my life.”

Underware? … CV

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