Over the weekend, I received a lot of communications on HSB 138, the professional licensure bill. This bill went way too far and is dead.
However, we still have a problem with state boards. First and foremost, there are too many. Did you know we have an interior design board? Secondly, some of these boards are not effectively working for their members or for Iowa.
On Monday of this week, the State Ombudsman’s office released a scathing assessment of state boards. The Office of Ombudsman serves as an independent and impartial agency to which citizens can air their grievances about the government. The Ombudsman has authority to investigate complaints about Iowa state and local government.
In the 17- page report, the Ombudsman’s office called for Iowa’s licensing boards to commit to greater transparency in order to improve public confidence in their work.
The office cited, “a culture of secrecy among several state boards that regulate licensed professionals has fostered weak investigations, unprofessional conduct, and frustration for citizens who were never told why their complaints were dismissed.”
“….It has been easy for these boards to do less than their best because, for years, no one has been in a position to evaluate their work,” the report reads. “Regardless of how it is done, we believe it is imperative that the state’s licensing boards be more accountable to the public they serve.”
The report details how almost a dozen contacts from citizens in recent years whose complaints about licensees were closed by the boards without explanation. The office narrowed in on those four problematic boards. All four, at the direction of Iowa Attorney General Tom Miller’s office, refused the Ombudsman’s requests to obtain information.
Specifically, they were looking for recordings and minutes from closed-session meetings that would shed light on their work. Sunlight is the best disinfectant. And these boards could use some Vitamin C.
The Office wrote, “Eventually, through a law change in 2015, the Ombudsman obtained the boards’ closed-session records, which often showed that complaints were not fully investigated or vetted. In some cases, the Ombudsman found that board members friendly to licensees under investigation participated in board decisions, despite their conflicts of interest. One of those board members falsely told the Ombudsman under oath that she had recused herself from those meetings.”
We have a problem in our state. These boards are trusted by Iowans to regulate their industries and protect the public. Licensures are needed in many professions to uphold the integrity of the profession and the trust of their clients.
All that aside, these are government employees. Who are they to refuse access to an investigation? Who are they to lie under oath? Who are they to ignore complaints of Iowans. Government employees are not above the law. Licensure isn’t the problem (….but there are, admittedly, some that need a good review). The problem is insubordination, and it is not acceptable.