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Iowa health department spokeswoman questions being ousted

July 16, 2020 GMT

DES MOINES, Iowa (AP) — A longtime spokeswoman for the Iowa Department of Public Health has been ousted from her job, and she thinks it was because she aggressively shared information on the coronavirus outbreak and other issues with news organizations.

Polly Carver-Kimm had been the department’s lead media relations liaison for 12 years, until she was called in Wednesday and told to resign or be fired, the Des Moines Register reported. She chose to resign, which allowed her to use remaining vacation days and sick leave to pay for health insurance.

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Health Department director Gerd Clabaugh told her the position was being eliminated as part of a restructuring, Carver-Kimm said, but she believes her dismissal was the culmination of a pattern to diminish her role, starting in March when she was told she would no longer handle any media inquiries about the coronavirus.

“I am embarrassed and saddened by the way the media has been treated during COVID,” she said in an email. “You are not receiving timely answers, and you are getting scripted talking points when you do get an answer.”

Carver-Kimm said Gov. Kim Reynolds’ office has recently required most media requests to the department — including routine open-records requests — be routed to the governor’s office.

Neither Reynolds’ office nor the health department would comment on Carver-Kimm’s removal, but agency spokeswoman Amy McCoy released a statement Thursday that defended its release of information.

“The Iowa Department of Public Health has gone above and beyond to provide up-to-date and comprehensive information throughout the pandemic. These efforts have included participating in regular press briefings, constant communication with media and continuous improvement on how we report data and provide information,” the statement said. “We value the role media plays in the state’s efforts to get information to the public, and intend to continue a strong partnership.”