Note that this post contains statements that are allegations. Allegation should not be construed as proof of wrongdoing. The Waterloo/Cedar Falls Courier and AM 1630 KCJJ radio (Iowa City) were sources of information for this post.

One of the big local stories this week is about the state of Iowa shutting down a group home where twenty one mentally challenged individuals lived. These men appear to have been productive workers and valued members of the community, but many concerns have been raised about their living and financial arrangements.

The facility was deemed a fire hazard by state fire inspectors. The facility has relied solely on space heaters for heat after a boiler broken down in 2002. Some bedrooms were more than 100 feet from an exit, there were blocked exits, boarded up windows, and overloaded circuits, to name a few of the problems. If a fire had broken out, the consequences could have been dire.

The state is also looking into the financial arrangement between the men and their employer (a turkey processing company). It appears that the company had control over not only the paychecks, but also social security checks. The company deducted room, board, and health care. The state has subpoenaed records in order to determine if the men had given authorization for these payroll deductions – and if they had the mental capacity required to give authorization. The company paid the men less than minimum wage, but this is allowable under state law. State law allows employees with diminished mental capacity to be paid less than minimum wage. This is an effort to have companies employ people who might not otherwise be employable. Additionally, the state is requesting that the county file criminal charges of operating an unlicensed health care facility.

If that was the end of the story, it would be bad enough.

However, this morning, AM 1630 KCJJ reported that former Governor Robert Ray was informed of this situation in the 1970s and told the Department of Human Services not to investigate. KCJJ also reported that Ray was receiving campaign contribution from the Louis Rich turkey company at the time. Louis Rich contracted some of their work to the employer of these men.

KCJJ also said that the subsequent governor, Terry Branstad, was also notified of the situation – and that he also told DHS not to investigate. Branstad was also receiving contributions from Louis Rich.

I sincerely hope that KCJJ has its facts wrong regarding the former governors. If these allegations are true, these people may have endured unsafe living conditions and illegal financial arrangements for decades because of the inaction of the governors. Certainly, there will be much more written about this case in Iowa papers during the coming months.