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Iowa secretary of state often absent, on phone for meetings

Published: Thursday, Sept. 28, 2017 9:50 a.m. CDT

IOWA CITY (AP) — Secretary of State Paul Pate has shown up in person to less than half of the meetings of a key panel that helps run Iowa’s executive branch, an attendance record that one of his political opponents criticized Wednesday.

Minutes reviewed by The Associated Press show that Pate has been absent for 20 of 76 meetings of the Executive Council during his nearly three-year tenure and that he called in to meetings 21 times. He was present at the Capitol for the remaining 35 meetings of the five-member committee, which approves emergency spending, appoints and pays outside lawyers and governs insurance and benefit plans for state employees, among other duties.

Pate’s in-person attendance record of 46 percent of meetings through Sept. 18 is worse than his colleagues, who rarely participate by telephone and have been present at between 92 percent and 66 percent of the meetings.

Pate declined earlier interview requests, but in a telephone call Wednesday evening, he said he could participate in meetings as effectively by phone as in-person. He said that when in-person and phone meetings were included, he joined 74 percent of meetings.

State Auditor Mary Mosiman has only missed six meetings, while State Treasurer Michael Fitzgerald and former Gov. Terry Branstad (who left office in May) both missed 15. Agriculture Secretary Bill Northey has missed 22 and called into four. Several of Northey’s absences have come this year as he awaits confirmation to join the Trump administration.

Pate, a Republican from Cedar Rapids who helped craft Iowa’s new voter identification law, is running for re-election in 2018.

Democrat Jim Mowrer, who has launched a campaign for the office, said Pate should be ashamed of his attendance record.

“He’s failing to take his role on the executive council seriously,” Mowrer said. “I think it’s critical that the secretary of state show up and participate in these meetings and build relationships with the governor and the other members.”

Pate most recently missed a Sept. 18 meeting where he didn’t vote on a complicated land swap between the state and Iowa City, the approval of fees for lawyers defending Iowa’s new collective bargaining restrictions, and $135,000 to repair an Iowa State Patrol building damaged by rains.

Spokesman Kevin Hall said Wednesday that Pate had a doctor’s appointment.

Hall said Pate has missed other meetings for reasons such as caring for his ailing mother who died last year, attending conferences and election training, and going on family vacations. Hall also defended his boss’ practice of calling in to meetings, noting that is allowed under Iowa’s open meetings law.

“Electronic participation in meetings is a common practice done in board and council meetings frequently, as well as the private sector,” he said.

Pate’s 21 call-ins to the council’s meetings are more than three times those by everyone else on the panel combined, the review found.

The practice has some drawbacks. Minutes show that Pate tried to call in for a Nov. 7, 2016, meeting but “due to unforeseen circumstances, was unable to participate.”

Pate, 59, earns a salary of $103,000, overseeing a staff of roughly 25 employees who work in Des Moines. He’s also the president of PM Systems Corp., an asphalt paving business that does work throughout eastern Iowa.

Pate has delegated to aides his positions on two other committees on which the secretary sits.

Minutes show Pate hasn’t attended meetings of the State Records Commission, appointing his chief of staff, Mark Snell, as his designee. At his first meeting of the Voter Registration Commission in January 2015, Pate appointed deputy secretary of state Carol Olson as his designee, although Pate has attended some of its meetings.

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