Salo: Palmer’s DHS resignation


Photo Courtesy of Iowa Department of Human Services

Charles Palmer has resigned from his position as the director of the Iowa Department of Human Services. 

Megan Salo

Wednesday, Gov. Kim Reynolds announced in a press release that she had received the resignation of the director of the Iowa Department of Human Services, Charles Palmer. 

“Chuck has been a dedicated public servant who has spent his life trying to improve the lives of Iowans,” Reynolds said, outlining Palmer’s achievements as director. “I want to wish him well as he enjoys his retirement with his wife and family.”

The press release said that his resignation will be effective as of June 16 and anyone who is interested in the position can see a job description here

Palmer has been named the director by former Gov. Terry Branstad, once in 1989 and again in 2011, giving him a total of 16 years in the position.

During his time as director, Palmer received backlash from the public multiple times after closing a home for troubled girls in Toledo in 2014 and two mental hospitals in Cherokee and Mount Pleasant under Branstad’s direction in 2015.

Although the press release didn’t give an exact reason for Palmer’s resignation, Palmer’s statement was included in the release:

“It has been an honor to serve the people of Iowa as the director of the Department of Human Services. Through the many accomplishments that the men and women in this agency have achieved, we have made a significant difference in the lives of vulnerable Iowans,” Palmer said. “Serving under the Branstad-Reynolds Administration was a great privilege. I believe the time is right for me to retire from my position as director and I stand ready to assist in any way to assure a smooth transition.”

Although he said that “the time was right” for him to retire, he told the Des Moines Register in April that he wasn’t planning on retiring anytime soon. Does his sudden change of heart have something to do with the recent bad press the DHS has received after the two deaths of Iowa home-schooled teenagers? 

In both Natalie Finn and Sabrina Ray’s cases, the DHS had received reports of possible abusive situations. The DHS investigated these claims but didn’t find enough evidence to remove the children from their homes. 

Palmer had received a lot of hate from the media, government officials and the public after these cases became public. 

Iowa State Senators Janet Peterson and Matt McCoy, both members of the Senate Oversight Committee, are two who had called for the resignation of Palmer after Natalie and Sabrina’s deaths and the case of Malayia Knapp who escaped from her abusive home and is now trying to remove her siblings from the same situation. 

“The state has failed at-risk children again and again,” Petersen said in a report by The Gazette. “Iowans are demanding change, they are demanding results, and they do not want to see another child die due to the failures of the Branstad/Reynolds administration.” 

McCoy also sent a statement to the Daily through email:

“I have been calling for the DHS director Charles Palmer to resign for several months. I firmly believe that under his watch DHS was dismantled and became impudent due to his negligence.

“Since Governor Branstad returned to office in 2010 – DHS has shed 1,135 employees. There are 56 counties with no child abuse investigator living in the county. There were 52,000 calls to the child abuse hotline last year. 37,000 calls required investigation. There are approximately 175 child abuse investigators. Some investigators cover five counties with several hours of driving to cover their territory. The average investigator worked at least 15 hours of overtime with some averaging 70 hour work weeks.

“The Governor and republicans cut an additional $24 million from the department effect July 1, 2017. Sixteen million of that cut will be directly from field services which provides funding for investigators.

“DHS had ample warnings in the Finn case, Knapp case and Ray case. They failed these children due to failure to fully investigate numerous reports from teachers, nurses and parents. Chuck Palmer is leaving the DHS in disgrace because he allowed for a culture of incompetence to thrive.”

I agree with McCoy that however civil his retirement might have seemed in the press release sent by Gov. Reynolds, I don’t believe he is leaving his position with respect. 

As I’ve said in a previous column, the DHS was directly responsible – at least partly – for the deaths and treatments of the abused children that have been in the media and for all those who are dealing with abuse away from the cameras.  

And instead of working to right the wrong that they have made in Iowa government, Palmer is jumping ship. To me, it feels like he knows what to do, because it’s simple – dedicate more resources to DHS – but he’s not willing to fight to fix it. 

I’m not claiming to know everything about how politics work and I also don’t know all of what Palmer accomplished while he was in his position, but I do know that he made a mistake and is now pushing that mistake on to someone else to deal with. 

It’s my hope that Gov. Reynolds and whoever they choose to take over Palmer’s position will care enough to make Iowa DHS a priority so that no more children have to die because of a negligent government.