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Newscast 5.29.2024: Sioux City inclusion officer Grebrekidan is fired; Woodbury County resident tells county official Taylor to resign following wife's voter fraud prison sentence starting; Election security measures in place

Semehar GHebrekidan
Semehar Ghebrekidan

The city of Sioux City has officially fired the city’s inclusion employee who had been on administrative leave since late February.

Inclusion Liaison Semehar Ghebrekidan Arguello was the first person to serve in that position created by city leaders in 2021. She provided a copy of her termination notice, which was signed on Tuesday by City Manager Bob Padmore.

The letter cited multiple violations and levels of violations by Ghebrekidan, although it does not specify them. It said the decision to terminate her employment followed a hearing of Padmore and two other city officials with Ghebrekidan last week.

“I'm just deeply disappointed and, you know, their lack of commitment to doing DEI work correctly. I shouldn't be punished for pointing things out that are part of my job. And I shouldn't be railroaded just because I say something out loud," Ghebrekidan said.

She had previously retained an attorney during her three months on administrative leave.

Ghebrekidan supporters in March and April city council meetings spoke in defense of her, saying she organized or participated in many events that boosted inclusion of many groups in the city.

Back in April, Sioux City Mayor Bob Scott said the city continues to want to “foster diversity and inclusion,” and supports the city’s Inclusive Sioux City Advisory Committee.

The University of South Dakota in late April settled a lawsuit brought by Ghebrekidan, a former employee who alleged that she was called a “whore.”

USD greed to pay Ghebrekidan $100,000 – which included back pay and a nearly $25,000 fee to her attorney.

*In other news, a Woodbury County resident for two consecutive weeks has said that Woodbury County Board of Supervisors member Jeremy Taylor should resign his position, following his wife beginning a prison term for voter fraud.

Sheila Thompson, of Lawton, has spoken in the May 28 and May 21 meetings, right after Kim Phuong Taylor began her four-month prison term in Minnesota. Thompson said she is concerned about the “mess.”

“We have concerns about the Taylor family….Taylor needs to resign,” she said.

Kim Phuong Taylor was convicted of 52 counts of voter fraud in November after a jury trial in Sioux City at the Federal Courthouse.

Prosecutors said she pursued unlawful means to help her husband, who ran for two electoral positions as a Republican candidate in 2020.

The jury ruled Kim Taylor had illegally filled out election documents and ballots for members of the Vietnamese community, who had limited ability to read and understand English.

Three of the four other Republican members of the Board of Supervisors have said Taylor should resign, although he remains on the board and plans to finish out his four-year term through December. County Board members Matthew Ung, Mark Nelson, and Dan Bittinger have said Taylor should resign, while Keith Radig has not called for that.

As a result, county resident Thompson on Tuesday also said Radig should stop his electoral run this year for the county auditor position.

*Additionally, a top federal election security official says she’s confident in the integrity of U.S. elections, and that the state of Iowa has been an “incredible partner in election security.”

Cait (kate) Conley is senior advisor to the director of the federal Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency. Conley said over the past few years, the agency has sent security advisors to each of Iowa’s 99 counties to review best practices. But Conley says election officials can’t be complacent.

"While our election infrastructure is more secure than ever, today’s threat environment is also more complex than ever. Our foreign adversaries remain a persistent threat to our elections, intent on undermining Americans’ confidence in the foundation of our democracy and sowing partisan discord, efforts which could be exacerbated by generative AI capabilities," Conley said.

Conley says cybersecurity threats like ransomware, as well as harassment of election officials continue to be major concerns. She says next month, federal and state officials will hold tabletop exercises across Iowa to ensure they’re ready to respond to any problems that may come up in the November election.

Iowa’s primary election day is June 4, and early voting is already underway.

Iowa Secretary of State Paul Pate says election, law enforcement, emergency management and cybersecurity officials, as well as the Iowa National Guard, have been training to respond to election problems.