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Hatch Says He Would Have Fired Administrators Who Forged Secret Employee Settlements

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DES MOINES, Iowa Gov. Terry Branstad's chief 2014 election rival accused the GOP governor of "passing the buck" and failing to take decisive leadership action Monday to address a "culture of secrecy" within the administration as more confidential employee settlements in more state agencies came to light.

Democrat Jack Hatch, a state senator from Des Moines who is running unopposed in the June primary, said issuing an executive order as Branstad did Monday to increase accountability, openness and transparency in execute-branch agencies was an inadequate response to allegations of secret "hush money" and confidential agreements in personnel settlements that the governor called "troubling" and "wrong."

"This governor continues to deny and deflect instead of leading, which is what governors are hired to do," said Hatch.

"Iowans know there is a toxic pattern of wrongdoing, lack of oversight and secrecy in this administration and it simply has to end," the Democratic senator added. "The buck stops with the governor. An executive order is a wholly inadequate fig leaf. A full investigation is needed."

Branstad, a five-term incumbent, told reporters that an internal review by his administration uncovered 12 separate state agencies had entered into 24 secret settlement agreements with employees totaling more than $427,000 a practice that he called unacceptable and would not happen again in his administration.

To make sure that does not happen, the governor told reporters he has signed an executive order to increase accountability, openness and transparency of employee settlements. He also said he spoke with top officials within his administration about the secret settlements to make sure they never happen again.

"I wanted to make it abundantly clear by my executive order it's illegal, and if this ever happens again, there are going to be heads rolling," the governor told his weekly news conference.

Hatch responded by saying if he was governor, heads would have already rolled, that if he found out an administrator had entered into an unenforceable confidential employee agreement in conflict with state law and his administration's policies " they would have been fired, they would have been terminated."

"This is a lack of leadership of the governor and it shows that he is continuing passing the buck," Hatch said.

"That's getting old. This is an administration that is controlled dramatically by the governor's office and he's alleging there was no knowledge by his office or by the Department of Management," he added. "Here we have a governor who has said that he is going to have an open and transparent administration, and it's the worst we've seen modern history."

The Senate Oversight Committee has requested information concerning the confidential employee settlements, and Hatch said he hopes the testimony from the affected individuals and department officials will shed more light on the situation and whether political considerations entered into the decisions.