Incoming Iowa attorney general Brenna Bird tells 19 staffers to resign

  • Oops!
    Something went wrong.
    Please try again later.

The incoming, newly elected Iowa attorney general has asked for the resignations of 19 current staffers, including many in leadership positions but also some longtime staff attorneys, according to Lynn Hicks, a spokesperson for the office who was among those asked to resign.

Brenna Bird, a Republican county attorney who defeated longtime Attorney General Tom Miller, a Democrat, in the November election, requested the resignations on Dec. 22, according to letters obtained by Iowa Capital Dispatch.

“We appreciate your past service to the State of Iowa,” wrote Sam Langholz, whom Bird has selected as her chief deputy when she takes control of the office next week. “But the people of Iowa have elected a new attorney general. To best serve them — and to do the things she told Iowans she would do — the Attorney General-Elect is realigning the office and building a new team that matches her vision for the office.”

Bird pledged during her election campaign to more vigorously defend laws enacted by the Republican-controlled Legislature and to challenge policies enacted by President Joe Biden, a Democrat.

Langholz, former senior counsel for Gov. Kim Reynolds, has worked for the attorney general’s office for about two years and has helped defend against challenges to the governor’s policies and administrative actions.

His letter to 19 of his colleagues asked that their resignations be effective at 8:30 a.m. Jan. 3, at the latest.

“We are timing this transition date and time so that you will receive holiday pay on January 2, regular pay for 30 minutes on January 3, and your normal health insurance coverage for the month of January,” Langholz wrote.

He said the notices of resignation were due on Dec. 28 — six days after the letters were sent.

Hicks, who is Miller’s chief of staff, is among at least 10 who have acquiesced to the requests or had already planned to resign, according to copies of the resignation letters and other information he provided to Capital Dispatch with the consent of the employees. He identified a total of 13 of those asked to resign.

The 19 employees represent less than 10% of the total staff, which has about 150 assistant attorneys general and more than 200 people total, according to state salary records.

Replacing top staffers is common when someone new is elected to a statewide executive position, especially when they are tied to a different political party. However, the letters also targeted attorneys more closely involved in litigating cases, several of whom have been with the office for more than two decades.

“It has been my great honor serving the people of the state of Iowa — particularly the most vulnerable amongst us including older Iowans, veterans, and other at-risk individuals — and am disappointed that I was asked to resign,” wrote Chantelle Smith, an assistant attorney general whose focus is elder abuse and who has been employed by the office since about 2000, according to state records.

Hicks said others who were asked to resign include:

  • Nathan Blake, the chief deputy attorney general.

  • Jessica Whitney, the deputy attorney general for public protection and the director of the office’s Consumer Protection Division.

  • Matt Gannon, the first assistant attorney general, who wrote in his resignation letter: “I wish you success. I have my doubts.”

  • Chandlor Collins, director of the Human Services Division.

  • Emily Willits, director of the Licensing and Administrative Law Division.

  • Sandi Tibbetts Murphy, director of the Crime Victim Assistance Division who wrote in her resignation letter: “It has been a singular honor to serve the people of Iowa, and specifically victims of crime, as part of this Division and I hope that its groundbreaking and pivotal work continues unabated.” Bird has said she might overhaul the division, given her experience prosecuting crimes and interacting with victims of those crimes.

  • Heather Adams, an assistant attorney general who specializes in licensing and administrative law and public health who had worked for the office since 1994. She told Capital Dispatch: “I do not know why I was asked to resign. I, too, was deeply disappointed to be asked to submit my resignation. I have faithfully served the office, the public, and my public health clients for nearly 30 years — in a nonpartisan manner.”

  • Mari Culver, an assistant attorney general who specializes in consumer protection. She is the spouse of former Iowa Gov. Chet Culver, a Democrat.

  • Ashlee Kieler, a communications specialist who had already submitted her resignation.

  • Ellen Ramsey-Kacena, an assistant attorney general who specializes in human services and family law.

  • Donn Stanley, an assistant attorney general who specializes in consumer protection. Stanley has worked for the office for about two decades and previously held leadership roles. He also took a leave of absence from the office to be campaign manager for Gov. Culver in 2010.

  • Sharon Wegner, an assistant attorney general in the Special Litigation Division.

Iowa Attorney General Brenna Bird, who took office Tuesday.
Iowa Attorney General Brenna Bird, who took office Tuesday.

Langholz noted that Miller also installed his “own team” to lead the office after he was first elected in 1978, based on media accounts at the time, and that the number of requested resignations are less than 8% of the total staff. They are at-will employees and “can be terminated at any time and for any lawful reason,” Langholz said.

“To implement her vision for the office, the Attorney General-elect will build a new team that shares her goals and values,” according to a prepared statement Langholz provided. “The Attorney General-elect appreciates the service to Iowa from the individuals leaving the office.”

Find this story at Iowa Capital Dispatch, which is part of States Newsroom, a network of news bureaus supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity. Iowa Capital Dispatch maintains editorial independence. Contact Editor Kathie Obradovich for questions: 

This article originally appeared on Des Moines Register: Brenna Bird dismisses 19 staffers from Iowa Attorney General’s office