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Feds ask: Are Register reporters due overtime pay? Huh? Branstad team had no idea Godfrey is gay.


The United States Department of Labor is checking with some current and former Des Moines Register reporters to see if they were paid for all the hours they worked. The Department says it “can’t comment on ongoing investigations” — which sort of confirms there is an ongoing investigation. A former reporter says he and others have been interviewed by an investigator from the wage-and-hour division of the Des Moines office of the federal department.

Anyone — an employee, a former employee, or just someone who’s interested — can file a complaint, and the complaints are confidential. But the Labor Department doesn’t investigate unless its screening indicates there is substance to the complaint. In the Register’s case, the complaint almost certainly is that reporters are assigned more than 40 hours of work but are not paid overtime.

Most people who aren’t bosses must be paid time-and-a-half for overtime, but overtime pay is very rare at the newspaper, reporters say. “I explained [to the investigator] how overtime had to be approved in advance, an impossibility because reporters never know how the flow of news will affect their work load,” says the former reporter. [Oddly, columnists and editorial writers are not subject to the wage-and-hour rules. They are deemed to be “creative” — like actors or artists — and creative people don’t get overtime. Note to boss: This is not a “column.”]

Under the Fair Labor Standards Act, the Department of Labor can question employees and gather data from the employer and employees on wages and hours. The department can ask an employer to reimburse employees for overtime that wasn’t paid, and the department can sue an employer for up to two years of back wages and damages. The Labor Department can also assess penalties for willful violations of overtime requirements. It’s unclear how far along the investigation into the Register is or what is being found. Most cases take four to five months to resolve, and 75 to 80 percent of the complaints that are investigated turn out to have merit, a Labor Department official told Cityview.

The burden of proof in wage-and-hour cases is on the employer, not the employee.

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Asked if the Register had indeed been contacted by the Department of Labor, Amalie Nash, the executive editor, said she was “not able to comment at this point.” …

The Chris Godfrey case gets curiouser and curiouser, Cityview reported last week.

And curiouser.

It seems the six people the former state workers’ compensation director is suing for harassment and discrimination and extortion and defamation had no idea that he is gay. Really. None of them. No kidding. Not an inkling. A holdover appointee with a fixed term from the Vilsack and Culver administrations, Godfrey was the only openly gay department head in the Branstad government. It was widely discussed prior to his confirmation hearings. It was discussed in a confirmation-strategy session with a Republican legislator in 2007 by, among others, the lawyer who now represents the six defendants. It was common knowledge in the Capitol and among politicians. Godfrey’s partner attended department events with him; they jointly hosted staff parties.

But the six defendants in the case filed affidavits Friday saying they just never knew he was gay, not until after the Governor and his aides asked Godfrey to resign before his term was up, not until after the Governor cut Godfrey’s salary by $40,000. Not me, not me, not me, not me, not me, not me say Branstad, Lt. Gov. Kim Reynolds, Iowa Workforce Development boss Teresa Wahlert, Branstad counsel Brenna Findley, former Branstad chief of staff Jeff Boeyink and former Branstad communications director Tim Albrecht.

The affidavits were filed in response to Godfrey’s lawyer’s motion to have LaMarca & Landry removed as counsel for the individual defendants and the state of Iowa. Since the Iowa Supreme Court held in effect that the defendants might individually be liable for their actions — that it’s up to a jury to decide when a government employee’s action is “in the scope of duty” and thus protected from lawsuit — it’s a conflict for everyone to be represented by the same lawyer, Roxanne Conlin, who is representing Godfrey, said. The affidavits all say the signers are happy being represented by the same lawyer. “I do not wish to change attorneys,” they say. LaMarca & Landry is presumably happy, too. So far, it has collected more than $500,000 in fees from the state.

Meantime, Conlin amended her complaint last week to add two additional charges against the Governor. And further complicating things, Arthur Gamble, the Polk County District Court judge who has the case, suddenly recused himself.

In a press conference on Sept. 15, the Governor said Godfrey had “delayed, delayed, delayed” the proceeding in the case, and Branstad said that’s one reason he had to reschedule [aside: until after the election] his deposition. That was false and defamatory, Conlin says. The governor said more or less the same thing in his debate with Democratic opponent Jack Hatch, and that was also defamatory, the amended lawsuit says.

Gamble, the chief judge of the district, recused himself after noting that he is regularly consulting on another matter with assistant attorneys general Jeffrey Peterzalek and Matthew Oetker. They recently joined the Godfrey case as counsel for the state, and “therefore recusal is appropriate,” Gamble wrote. No new judge has been assigned yet. …

For those who don’t read this column online: After Cityview went to press last week, several top people decided to leave the Register rather than go through the process of reapplying for their old jobs as the newsroom is restructured. Leaving are Randy Evans, 64, the editor of the editorial pages and a beloved newsroom lifer; sports columnist and former sports editor Bryce Miller; Pulitzer Prize-winning photographer Mary Willie; reporter Sharyn Jackson, the author of the recent series called “Harvest of Change;” photographer Bill Neibergall, a second-generation photographer there; and Rick Shacklett, a widely admired copy editor.

This week, the remaining employees are being interviewed, knowing that there are more applicants than jobs. (Overall, the news staff in Des Moines and Iowa City is being cut by 18 jobs, or 16 percent.) If you’re applying for Evans’ job running the editorial page, now called Engagement Editor II, here is a question you will be asked, according to a memo sent to the staff: “Discuss how you use metrics to shape or create content, experiences and events for key audiences.” Not asked: How many hours a week do you work? CV

Comment: Harkin, Braley and polls

Bruce Braley has blown his lead in the Iowa Poll and now is six points behind Joni Ernst with the U.S. Senate election just a month away. What’s more, she clearly beat him in the debate in Indianola — she didn’t say anything, but she looked great. And the Republican Ernst outraised Democrat Braley in the latest reporting period.

Is there hope for Braley?


Step back 30 years. In 1984, Democratic Congressman Tom Harkin took on incumbent Republican Senator Roger Jepsen. The silver-haired, born-again Jepsen looked great, but he had his flaws — among other things, during the campaign it was disclosed that a few years earlier he had used a credit card at what was euphemistically called a massage parlor — and Harkin never trailed in the Iowa Poll.

Until September.

Suddenly, Jepsen was ahead by nine points. The Iowa Poll in The Des Moines Register of Sept. 23, 1984, was eerily similar to the Braley-Ernst poll of last month. Jepsen, like Ernst, was way ahead in rural areas. Jepsen, like Ernst, was way ahead with men. Jepsen, unlike Ernst, was holding his own among women voters. And Harkin, like Braley, was in a statistical dead heat in his own district.

But Harkin went on to win the election on Nov. 5, 1984, getting 55 percent of the vote. What happened?

Jepsen had surged for two reasons. Ronald Reagan, seeking a second term, had a jump in popularity in the early fall. And Harkin let an attack ad by Jepsen go unanswered. The charge was about Harkin’s voting record — does that sound familiar? — and the Harkin people thought it was so outlandish they didn’t bother to respond.

Two things then happened. The Harkin people answered the attack and put that issue to bed — and never again let a charge go unanswered. And Harkin then gave a hell of a speech — to his staff. “The mood was gloomy; we were exhausted,” remembers a former staffer who attended the retreat coincidently scheduled for the Sunday the poll came out. But “Harkin gave what was — to me at least — the speech of his campaign.”

“The stakes are high,” he said. “Here’s why this matters.” And he laid out what the election was about. “I wish someone had recorded it,” the former staffer says. “No one, including him, matched that intensity again in making the logical case for his election.” And everyone went out and worked harder and smarter. By the Oct. 14 Iowa Poll, Harkin was back on top by five points.

Looking back, the ex-staffer and longtime political watcher adds, “Sometimes, a campaign can benefit from a poll showing a loss.”

Can Braley benefit?

Who knows? But Harkin spent some time with him in recent days. If the Senator talked about strategy — Braley has to put that veterans issue behind him — and if the Senator inoculated the Congressman and his staff with passion, Braley can win.

Otherwise, it’s Sen. Ernst. CV

— Michael Gartner

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