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Vilsack: No secret payments when he was governor

JOHNSTON, Iowa (AP) — No money was paid to anyone for secrecy during the years Tom Vilsack was governor, the Democrat who is now U.S. Secretary of Agriculture said Friday.

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Vilsack spoke to reporters after being interviewed for “Iowa Press,” an Iowa Public Television program.

“I’m very confident we weren’t paying people to be silent about whatever concerns that they may have had about state government and their treatment in state government,” he said.

Vilsack said he was not aware of secret agreements during his tenure, despite claims made Thursday by Iowa Department of Administrative Services Director Mike Carroll that they found five.

On Friday afternoon the attorney who was Vilsack’s legal adviser when he was governor said he reviewed the five agreements Carroll discussed.

“The agreements involved employee issues that went through the formal grievance process, and the confidentiality provisions were included to protect the grievant,” said Gary Dickey, a Des Moines lawyer. “None of the settlements were part of agency reorganization, nor was additional compensation in exchange for confidentiality.”

He said only one agreement included a payment and that agreement “expressly stated that state and federal law concerning disclosure of its terms would be followed.”

The issue has embroiled Gov. Terry Branstad’s administration in controversy for weeks.

More than 320 state workers have entered settlement agreements since the Republican governor took office in 2011, and more than two dozen were asked to sign confidentiality agreements. The total paid exceeded $500,000. Lawmakers have raised questions about where the money came from and why the workers were fired. Some former workers have alleged their firing was motivated by politics and some say they were asked by the state to accept cash in exchange for keeping the agreements quiet.