Less than one year ago, John Frew was hired as Governor Chet Culver’s Chief of Staff. In the July 9th press release that announced his hiring, Culver said, “John not only brings a great combination of experience in both the public and private sector to this position, but a career that has been committed to improving the quality of life everyplace he goes.”
Frew didn’t start his new position until September 28, 2009. That means that he only served as Chief of Staff for just 204 days.
It is pretty safe to say that Frew failed to improve the quality of life for Iowans. Under his watch, Governor Culver recklessly instituted a 10% across the board cut. The move devastated our schools and forced them to eliminate teachers and raise property taxes.
Also during his time as Chief of Staff, Frew was responsible for the lack of oversight of the Iowa Film Office, a scandal that saw taxpayer money be used to purchase luxury automobiles for out-of-state movie producers. He also was present for the Iowa School Board scandal, the misappropriation of $10 million in flood aid, and saw the unemployment rate soar.
Being the Chief of Staff for a governor is an awesome responsibility. They have day-to-day duties of ensuring that state agencies are functioning properly. The Governor’s Chief of Staff acts as the chief operating officer of the state, communicates with department heads, develops strategy, and makes sure decisions are made at the appropriate level. The Chief of Staff also serves as office manager, policy advisor, and strategist. In all, the Chief of Staff is the most powerful employee in the state and is compensated accordingly.
High profile staff changes have been common for Governor Culver. Since taking office, Culver has now had four Chiefs of Staff: Patrick Dillon, Charlie Krogmeier, John Frew, and now Jim Larew. While the turnover in the position has become commonplace, Frew’s departure to manage the City of Cedar Rapids’ new $67 million downtown convention facility has raised ethical questions about his time as Chief of Staff.
As Chief of Staff, Frew would have kept a keen eye on Governor Culver’s chief legislative accomplishment, the $830 million I-Jobs program. Is it a coincidence that Frew announced his departure from the Governor’s office just one month after a $15 million payment to the city of Cedar Rapids was made on March 9th of this year?
While the $15 million payment and Frew’s resignation could just be a coincidence, how could Frew and his company, Frew-Nations, negotiate a contract with the city of Cedar Rapids when he occupied the Chief of Staff position? I’m pretty sure Frew didn’t just wake up one day, resign, and get hired by the city just hours later.
Frew essentially handed Cedar Rapids a check for $15 million one day, and then turned around and quit so he could be the one receiving the money the next. Once Frew and his company became involved in negotiations with the city of Cedar Rapids, he should have resigned from his position as Chief of Staff immediately because of the obvious conflict of interest.
Iowa taxpayers are being asked to pay for the I-Jobs program for the next 20 years. The total amount that they will have to pay back will total over $1 billion dollars. Frew’s actions beg the question whether or not he wanted to serve the state as Chief of Staff, or did he do so to get his hands on some of the hundreds of millions of dollars that Governor Culver was going to be spending through his chief initiative.
It’s likely that Frew had been negotiating with the City of Cedar Rapids for months. That may seem like a short time frame, but since he only served as Culver’s Chief of Staff for 204 days, the question deserves to be asked. When did Frew begin his negotiations with Cedar Rapids? Did the Governor know? And, why didn’t he step down immediately?
TheIowaRepublican.com has also been told that other former Culver administration officials were involved in securing the $15 million for the Cedar Rapids project. Former Iowa Department of Economic Development chief Mike Tramontina and second-in-charge Vince Lintz, who resigned over the Iowa Film Tax Credit scandal, were also allegedly involved in securing I-Jobs money for the project. Tramontina is now the Public Policy Advisor for Iowa Community Development Partners.
This is yet another scandal with which the Culver administration must now deal. It also raises interesting questions for Attorney General Tom Miller. There is no doubt that a thorough investigation needs to take place. Soliciting business from a city that is securing millions of dollars from the state while you are the Chief of Staff reeks. If guilty, Frew should go to jail, and the city officials who hired him should be ashamed.
Iowans deserve to know if the state’s most powerful employee spent his 204 days as Chief of Staff trying to improve the quality of life for all Iowans, or personally profit from the money taxpayers will be repaying for the next 20 years. It is also obvious that we need to pass tougher ethics laws that will prevent this sort of thing from happening again.
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