Taxpayers rightly expect appropriate levels of professionalism from state government. Such standards certainly must include rigorous monitoring for and enforcement against sexual harassment within state agencies. Iowa state government, with 16,000 full-time employees, is making progress on that score as it attempts to move beyond its past failures.
The Iowa Department of Administrative Services confirmed 10 complaints of sexual harassment in the fiscal year that ended June 30. Allegations of inappropriate behavior including unwanted touching and sexual comments were valid in those cases, the department’s investigations concluded. State action included the dismissal of employees in departments including Transportation, Human Services and Revenue.
Before last year, the Department of Administrative Services assisted in investigations only if other agencies requested help. But that approach clearly was deficient. The State of Iowa has agreed to pay $4.1 million, for example, to two women over claims of lewd and offensive behavior by former Finance Authority Director Dave Jamison. Gov. Kim Reynolds fired Jamison last year following allegations that he had made multiple vulgar and sexually inappropriate comments to female staffers. A key problem was the lack of clarity in state policy about how to conduct an investigation of an agency director.
That situation spurred the stepped-up attention to sexual harassment policies and a more active role by the Department of Administrative Services. Under the new rules, supervisors who are aware of misconduct but don’t report it can also be fired.
This greater focus is welcome. Iowa state government needs to demonstrate that it is taking all appropriate steps to ensure respectful workplace environments, backed up by sound policies for complaints, investigations and sanctions.