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Iowa public safety chief leaves after rocky tenure

By RYAN J. FOLEY, Associated Press | Sep 04, 2013

IOWA CITY (AP) — Iowa’s top public safety official has resigned, the governor’s office said Wednesday, after a rocky tenure that lasted less than a year.

Public Safety Commissioner K. Brian London submitted his resignation Tuesday evening to Gov. Terry Branstad, ending 11 months as head of the department that investigates major crimes and patrols Iowa’s roadways.

Current and former employees have blamed him for a drop in employee morale and missteps in a scandal involving the governor’s speeding vehicle, and he has been criticized for a remark that offended Filipinos.

London and two other department officials were sued last month for their roles in the firing of Division of Criminal Investigation special agent Larry Hedlund, who contends superiors retaliated against him for filing a complaint in April about the governor’s speeding state vehicle. The speeding case has for weeks dogged Branstad, who is making plans to run for re-election next year.

London apologized last month for telling department employees that, in his experience with lie detection tests, cultural barriers made Filipinos difficult to polygraph. London claimed he was simply trying to make a technical point, but his remarks were condemned by the Philippine ambassador to the U.S., who called London to demand an explanation.

Branstad’s office confirmed London’s resignation and announced the reinstatement of Larry Noble to lead the department. Noble, a former state trooper and state senator, served as commissioner in 2011 and 2012 before announcing his retirement.

Branstad spokesman Tim Albrecht said he did not know if Branstad sought London’s resignation. But in announcing Noble’s return, the governor made a reference to the turmoil, saying Noble has the “experience and leadership ability to restore stability and predictability within this very important department of state government.”

Sen. Jeff Danielson, D-Cedar Falls, welcomed the end of London’s tenure. Danielson chaired London’s confirmation hearings earlier this year in the Senate, which voted to confirm London despite Danielson’s no vote. He said he’d received a pattern of negative feedback about London’s management style and that he “perhaps didn’t fit the culture of the department.”

Danielson praised Noble’s appointment, saying he has a long history with the department, is open-minded and works through problems. He said the department should improve its response to employee feedback and reinstate Hedlund, a 25-year veteran who had no prior discipline against him.

“He was the only one who was prepared to critique the department,” Danielson said.

Branstad’s choice of London as its 22nd commissioner a year ago was somewhat unconventional because he had no ties to Iowa and an exotic background. London had worked until 2010 as the top law enforcement official in Florida’s Department of Financial Services after stints at the CIA, the Secret Service, the U.S. Customs Service and Interpol, according to his official biography.

At the time, Branstad said London would bring a wealth of experience to the job, which paid him an annual salary of $145,000. But immediately after taking over, London created friction by changing the leadership of divisions and installing his own appointees.

Hedlund’s wrongful termination lawsuit claims that employees were upset with London’s management style, saying he pressured subordinates with threats of firings and reassignments.

In a complaint to London in April, Hedlund recounted how he and a trooper had pursued the governor’s speeding vehicle, which was clocked at 84 mph in a 65-mph zone. Hedlund said the incident had endangered public safety and must be addressed.

Hedlund was placed on administrative leave days later and fired in July for what the department called unbecoming and discourteous conduct. Meanwhile, the department did not investigate the speeding incident until audio and video files were released publicly in July. The trooper who was driving Branstad was disciplined and ticketed, and the governor directed his drivers to obey traffic laws going forward.

Branstad denied retaliating against Hedlund but declined to express confidence in London, who kept a low public profile throughout the case. A review by former Iowa Chief Justice Louis Lavorato concluded that Branstad’s office had no role in Hedlund’s firing, but that a jury would ultimately have to decide whether Hedlund’s superiors retaliated.

The Iowa Public Safety Department includes the Division of Criminal Investigation, the Iowa State Patrol, the state Fire Marshal, the Division of Narcotics Enforcement and the Fusion Center. The department has 615 sworn officers, roughly 300 civilian employees and 38 offices around the state.

Associated Press writer Catherine Lucey contributed from Des Moines.

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