MAHASKA COUNTY — The Mahaska County Board of Supervisors tabled a decision about a possible 28E agreement with Sieda Community Action for general relief services following a lengthy discussion and an accusation of whistleblower retaliation.
Iowa code requires a general assistance program. That program is run by Mahaska County General Assistance Manager Kim Newendorp, who is the only employee in that department.
Supervisor Steve Parker, who is the Mahaska County representative on the Sieda board, presented the agreement, which proposed that Sieda take over handling general assistance needs for the county.
“It looked like to me like we were duplicating services with our GA,” Parker said, adding he believed Sieda could do the job “a lot cheaper.”
Parker said he has no problems with the job Newendorp is doing.
“I haven’t had a complaint or anything. But I can’t see us spending $50,000 to administer $100,000 worth of services,” he said. “There’s got to be a cheaper way, I felt.”
Newendorp assists Mahaska County residents with financial needs, such as utilities, rent and water and sometimes food and medicine.
Parker said he had spoken with Sieda Executive Director Brian Dunn, and learned Sieda could provide a general assistance program for $6,500 a year.
Newendorp disagreed and expressed her concerns, not the least of which was potentially the termination of her job.
“So, clearly, I am not in favor of this. I have several reasons. The information that Mr. Parker has presented is not completely accurate,” she said. “They do not help all of the same clients, because they only help with one utility. They help with MidAmerican. They apparently don’t help with water and they don’t help with rent.”
In an interview, Sieda Executive Director Brian Dunn said Sieda would administer the general assistance funds provided by the county.
“It would be for the services as they’re outlined in the Mahaska County ordinance related to general assistance,” he said. “So as a nonprofit corporation, contracting with Mahaska County, the only restrictions would be for what we could do with our general assistance funds would be the restrictions put in place by the agreement or the ordinance.”
Mahaska County Supervisor Mark Groenendyk said the county is currently paying $50,000 for one individual to do general assistance, compared to an agency doing general assistance for $6,500 a year.
“We’ve had a work session with them. They’re willing to basically address bylaws and ordinances to do whatever we choose to do it; same way we’ve got it set up to do with having their own administrator, they’re going to do the same process,” he said. “Is it fair for the taxpayers to spend $50,000, or is it fair to taxpayers to spend $6,500 to do the same thing?”
Newendorp disagreed with the comment that Sieda does the same things she does.
“It’s different,” she said, “and there’s nobody to monitor this. They’re already not even spending the donation money that was given to them and instead have been spending my money.”
Parker repeated he had conversed twice with Dunn, who said it won’t be a problem for Sieda to cover general assistance in Mahaska County.
Groenendyk said in his understanding, an ordinance would be written, detailing how Sieda will administer the program, costs and how the county wants it to be accomplished.
HIPAA violations, accusation of retaliation
One year ago, Mahaska County was accused by Newendorp of Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act violations.
On Sept. 17, 2018, Newendorp expressed her concerns to the Mahaska County Board of Supervisors regarding an incident where files containing clients’ personal information that had been left unsecured and accessible by others, which is a HIPAA violation.
During that meeting, she said following the incident, she had gone to the supervisors, county attorney and human resources, with no result. She filed a grievance with the board of supervisors.
Now, with her job possibly being eliminated, she feels she is being retaliated against for being a whistleblower.
“I have recently been notified by the Federal Department of Health and Human Services Office of Civil Rights,” she said. “Approximately a year ago, I filed a complaint for HIPAA with the federal government and I received notice that my complaint is moving forward. “
Newendorp said she considered the potential agreement to be retaliation on the board’s part because she has been active in a federal investigation against the county and it appeared she was the only county employee being fired.
“I just find this timing suspicious,” she said, “as my complaint is moving forward and now you’ve chosen to fire me.”
Parker said he was unaware of the previous year’s complaint as he was not on the board at that time and stated the potential agreement effectively terminating Newendorp’s job was not in retaliation.
No action was taken on the item, as per recommendation by County Attorney Andrew Ritland, who suggested seeking more information and addressing concerns.
Other board business:
• Mahaska County Auditor Susan Brown presented the canvass of the North Mahaska Community School District special election held on Sept. 10. The measure for a general obligation bond passed. The bond will fund an HVAC system in the North Mahaska school buildings, as well as other necessary school safety and security improvements. The bond is not to exceed $18 million
• The board approved the inclusion of Mahaska County property in Pella’s Lely Urban Renewal Plan. The plan calls for improvements by Pella to a segment of Mahaska County secondary roads.
• A 28E agreement with Fremont for police protection services was approved.