My family and friends tell me they can always tell when I am angry or really passionate about a subject because I start talking faster than usual and I don’t complete my sentences. I will do my best to express my frustration to you, but fair warning — I’ve got a full head of steam on this issue.
A few weeks ago I read an article in the Quad-City Times reporting that the taxpayers of Iowa have yet again paid a settlement to state employees that were harassed by another state employee. In this instance, the taxpayers paid out $900,000 to three employees because one of their co-workers secretly photographed their genitals while they were going to the bathroom. According to the article the employees (all males) reported this behavior to their supervisor but the supervisor failed to act. The employees reported this behavior of attempting to take photos or videos went on for years. Now the state is going through evidence to see if other victims can be identified
I checked the state’s annual budget for a line item entitled “harassment payouts” and couldn’t find one. Considering we taxpayers shelled out over $8 million in 2019 to settle cases, you’d think it at least deserves its own line.
Let me get this out of the way before we go any further: I am in no way holding any victim responsible for payouts nor do I blame them for accepting the payout. I believe in most instances these payouts ring hollow compared to the stress victims have undergone. No one should have to work in that kind of environment.
I do wholly hold responsible the state employee who is doing the harassing. Let’s see, what ends up being their punishment? Loss of a job? Hopefully. Criminal charges? Haven’t seen that, but let’s hope our state supervisors are passing this on to law enforcement. Repaying the taxpayer for the settlements? No. Loss of IPERS? No. As one taxpayer to another, please give me a moment as I remove the “Kick me, I’m stupid” sign off my back. Seriously, drill down on this and tell me who the big monetary loser is (again, I’m not pointing fingers at the victims. They have every right and responsibility to report unacceptable/illegal behavior). The big monetary losers are the citizens of this state. That’s $8 million paid out in settled claims in 2019. That’s $8 million that could have been used for education, infrastructure, mental health, increased protection for law enforcement, you name it. And the perpetrators who victimized their fellow employees lose a job and that’s it? It’s time to try and reclaim our tax dollars.
I can think of no issue that should be more bipartisan than protecting our tax money and using it for the betterment of our state. There should be legislation written and co-sponsored by all our representatives that allows the state to collect damages from the perpetrator. If the state settles a claim for $1 million, then we attach a lien on every single asset the perpetrator owns. And that includes any funds that would have been distributed via IPERS.
I also believe the state should consider handing these complaints over to law enforcement. This harassment is a criminal act. Why not treat it as such? Currently it seems like we are trying to work with the perpetrator to stop the behavior. Really? We have to tell some guy it’s wrong to secretly taking pictures of your co-workers’ genitals? Come on.
Our hometown paper is kind enough to run the names and contact info. of our representatives. I encourage you to contact them and let them know we are fed up with footing the bill for state employees’ bad behavior. They need to be held accountable. Criminally and financially.
Mary McAllister of Maquoketa is one of the former owners of the Maquoketa Sentinel-Press and Maquoketa Web Printing.