Iowa Department for the Blind lacks enough commission members to meet legally

Published: Mar. 2, 2023 at 6:46 PM CST|Updated: Mar. 2, 2023 at 6:47 PM CST
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CEDAR RAPIDS, Iowa (KCRG) - Two of three seats on the Iowa Commission for the Blind, which determines the policies and programs carried out by a state agency called the Iowa Department for the Blind, aren’t filed as of Thursday.

According to the Iowa Department for the Blind, state law at least two members to make a quorum, which means legally making formal decisions. The department said this includes topics related to hiring, staff training, purchasing and a wide range of policy areas.

The board can still hold a general public information session with no actions being proposed or taken if one member is on the board.

Governor Kim Reynolds (R) made an appointment to the board, Amy Salger from Benton, on Wednesday after our KCRG-TV9 i9 Investigative Team asked questions about the board earlier this week. According to Iowa Law, the Iowa Senate must confirm the appointment.

Kollin Crompton, who is a spokesperson for the Governor’s Office, provided an email showing the Director for the Iowa Department for the Blind Emily Wharton notified the Governor’s Office of the two positions not being filled on November 18. According to the email, Wharton said there was nothing vital on the group’s agenda requiring a speedier appointment.

“There is still nothing vital that needs to happen at the December meeting,” Wharton wrote. “But it would be helpful to get a few things done to keep them from piling up in March, but nothing critical.”

Bill makes changes to the Iowa Department for the Blind

State lawmakers voted to move forward will a bill reshaping Iowa’s Government, which would generally consolidate power over state agencies underneath the Governor’s Office. The bill, which is a priority of Governor Reynolds, would reduce the number of cabinet agencies from 37 to 16.

One of the many changes inside the more than 1500-page bill is allowing the governor to directly appoint the director for the Iowa Department for the Blind. The Governor’s Office said the bill will save Iowa taxpayers an estimated $215 Million over four years.

Jerad Nylin, who is a student at the University of Iowa, said the agency has taught him numerous life skills and helped him afford the equipment needed to live as a blind man. He said he’s concerned the new director would become a political appointee unfamiliar with the experience of blind people.

“How is she going to pick the best director for the Blind of Iowan?” Nylin asked. “If she can’t pick members of a state-required board.”

Crompton said the Director for the Department for the Blind is the only department director in the executive branch not appointed by the governor. He said this bill is an opportunity to align the framework of accountability that Iowans expect of the governor.

“Iowans hold the Governor accountable as the chief elected official and head of the executive branch,” he wrote. “As elected by the people of Iowa, the Governor is responsible to hold state government accountable.”

According to emails from a public records request, the Iowa Department for the Blind said prisoners within the Iowa Department of Corrections had access to students’ partial names, birthdays and mailing addresses in February 2022. She said her concerns regarding student information being accessible to prisoners were ignored over a period of two years.

Our KCRG-TV9 i9 Investigative Team found the Department of Education ended two agreements with the Iowa Department of the Blind in August 2022, which created braille and large print educational material for students worth up to $800,000. Wharton said she believed the contract was terminated as retaliation for vocalizing grievances over prisoners’ ability to access student data.