Iowa public safety chief resigns amid turmoil

CORALVILLE – Gov. Terry Branstad said Wednesday that he accepted the resignation of Iowa’s public safety commissioner in an effort to restore a sense of normalcy to the department after a year of turmoil.

Branstad said K. Brian London offered his resignation Tuesday, which was “appropriate to restore stability and predictability” to a department that investigates crime and patrols highways.

The resignation ended an 11-month tenure marked by what employees called a difficult management style and plummeting morale. There also was a scandal involving the governor’s speeding vehicle and a diplomatic incident over a remark about Filipinos.

Branstad on Wednesday appointed Larry Noble as commissioner, a job Noble held before stepping down last year. Branstad called Noble, a former trooper and 30-year department veteran, a friend whose decision to return was “a personal favor” that would calm the situation.

Branstad hired London a year ago, saying Iowans would be fortunate to have his expertise after a colorful career in law enforcement. The governor acknowledged Wednesday his pick didn’t work out as planned.

“Commissioner London has a phenomenal resume and he’s worked at all kinds of places all around the world, but I don’t think he understood the culture of public safety in Iowa as well as somebody like Larry Noble,” the governor told reporters at a housing conference in Coralville. “I think there were a lot of people that just didn’t really feel comfortable with the leadership style that they had under Commissioner London.”

London told employees in a memo that he was resigning for personal reasons and was proud they pushed through “profound budget and staff reductions” together.

“I like to think that my best contribution was to our people,” he wrote.

He made no mention of controversy, but said, “I fancy that at one time I was a fair and honest manager, but I recall George Carlin’s remark that ‘the older you get, the better you realize you were.'”

London and two other officials were sued last month over their roles in firing Division of Criminal Investigation special agent Larry Hedlund, who contends superiors retaliated against him for filing a complaint in April about the governor’s speeding vehicle. The case has for weeks dogged Branstad, who is planning to run for re-election next year.

Branstad said London’s resignation signals a desire for new leadership, not disapproval of London’s handling of the speeding incident.