Register Exclusive: Director resigns at Iowa's troubled public safety department
The state’s public safety chief resigned from his job Tuesday night, following a litany of complaints about sagging morale and controversy over the firing of an agent who reported the governor’s vehicle speeding.
During a one-on-one meeting Tuesday night, Gov. Terry Branstad accepted the resignation of Brian London, who took over as commissioner of the Department of Public Safety in October 2012, then immediately began to make leadership changes that caused turmoil in the agency.
London held the job for just 10 months. His tenure was rocky from the beginning, state legislators and department insiders told The Des Moines Register on Tuesday.
Lately, London has been in the news in connection with a controversial 84-mph speeding incident in April that involved the governor’s State Patrol driver. London fired Larry Hedlund, a 25-year veteran of the Department of Public Safety, shortly after Hedlund wrote a complaint to his bosses objecting to the fact that troopers declined to stop the SUV once they realized it carried Branstad.
State lawmakers said complaints about London, 60, have been mounting for months from employees within the public safety agency, who said London had a flawed management style that was leading to dysfunction.
“This was a good decision by the governor, and I’m glad he made it,” said state Sen. Jeff Danielson, a Democrat from Waterloo who chaired the Senate confirmation hearings for London earlier this year. He voted against London’s appointment. “This department was on its knees. I’ve never seen morale that low in any organization since I’ve been involved in public policy.”
London does not have a listed phone number, and the Register could not reach him for comment Tuesday night.
Members of the Senate, who are charged with confirming or rejecting the governor’s choices for leaders of state agencies, said Iowa law enforcement officials raised red flags about London almost immediately.
Some questioned his job-hopping resume, which listed service in the U.S. military, Central Intelligence Agency, U.S. Secret Service, the International Criminal Police Organization (INTERPOL), the California Highway Patrol and several other organizations.
But Branstad said in a written statement at the time that Iowa was “incredibly fortunate” to get London.
“There is no higher responsibility for the government than to protect its citizens, and Brian has a wealth of experience to apply within our Department of Public Safety,” Branstad wrote.
London began his job in October, but the Senate vote on his confirmation wasn’t until April 1.
Several senators have since told the Register that before the vote, they were contacted by law enforcement officials in Iowa and elsewhere who wanted to share concerns about London — that he allegedly was an extreme micromanager, that he pitted employees against each other, that his hubris in a world of testosterone and egos had created a toxic environment that threatened to drive out veteran law enforcement officers.
Former state Sen. Tom Hancock, D-Epworth, who was chairman of the committee that oversees spending by the Department of Public Safety until he chose not to seek re-election last fall, said public safety workers told him London didn’t tolerate being contradicted.
“Word got out there that your job may be in jeopardy if you voice your opinion about anything,” Hancock said Tuesday.
In March, when it appeared there weren’t enough votes in the Senate to confirm London, members of Branstad’s administration, including Chief of Staff Jeff Boeyink, invested political capital to ensure his approval, lawmakers and lobbyists told the Register. The vote was 42-8, with all the Republicans voting yes.
Boeyink secured a $16,000 recruitment bonus for London to boost his pay above the top of the allowed pay range, making London’s yearly compensation $145,000, state records show.
London’s predecessor at the Department of Public Safety was Larry Noble, who retired in June 2012. Noble was a former state trooper and popular former Republican legislator.
Within weeks of his arrival, London used promotions, demotions or firings to shuffle leaders in the department’s five divisions: State Patrol, intelligence, fire marshal, narcotics and criminal investigation.
In a statement at the time, London wrote: “It is my goal to ensure any change made at DPS is executed with the best interests of the citizens of Iowa as the central motivating factor.”
Shake-ups in the department are nothing new. In the last three years, there have been three commissioners as well as major restructuring of the division leaders.