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Wheeler: what happened to me can happen to other state employees

December 26, 2011

The former head of the Iowa Film Office says that his prosecution and conviction for misconduct in office sends a bleak message to state employees, reports The Des Moines Register:

Interviewed for the first time since his conviction in October, Tom Wheeler told The Des Moines Register last week that he believes the verdict in his high-profile case means any state employee could wind up being charged criminally "through no fault of their own."

Wheeler said he had no training, no employee handbook and no legal coaching on the ramifications of screwing up when he was drafted to run Iowa’s film program.

Most state employees will lose no sleep over this. Mr. Wheeler was uniquely unlucky. Hired as a public relations person to sell Iowa to filmmakers, he suddenly found himself running a subsidy program to Hollywood that soon was receiving requests running into the hundreds of millions of dollars. He was given no staff, minimal supervision, and the power to authorize millions of dollars of spending. When the program exploded in scandal, the politicians threw him to the wolves; he ended up the only state employee to face charges. This isn't a common fact pattern in state government.

Somehow Mr. Wheeler still thinks the film tax credit program that led to his prosecution and financial ruin was a good idea. From The Des Moines Register's story:

Now working at a hardware store in Indianola, Wheeler said he will never be able to pay his debts on his current salary. He said he will have to look for work out of state if he ever wants to get ahead.

But he also said he still believes film incentives were a great thing for Iowans, and he thinks they should be revived with better safeguards in place, such as formal audits before credits are awarded.

It would be hard to think that you went through all that in service of a bad idea, yet in Mr. Wheeler's case, it's true. Bribing one industry to come to your state with money paid in taxes by all of the other businesses in the state, and by their employees, is folly. When the money is going to Hollywood, where accounting special effects are as spectacular as any seen on the screen, it's lunacy -- even if other states are doing it.


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