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On Monday we presented in great detail how Broadlawns Medical Center punished a Christian ministry due to the ministry’s religious beliefs. At the center of the decision to terminate the contract between Freedom Blend Coffee and Broadlawns Medical Center — a government entity — was a woman called Renee Hardman.

Hardman serves as the chief diversity, equity and inclusion officer at Broadlawns. It appears she instigated the “investigation” of Freedom Blend Coffee, coordinated the meetings regarding the situation, recommended the termination of the contract, attempted to offer legal advice justifying the punishment and was “proud” of the cancellation.

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If anyone was a lynchpin in the matter, it was Renee Hardman.

What’s worse is this is not the first time Hardman has used her position with a government entity to punish someone over their First Amendment exercise.

It was a year ago when Hardman spearheaded an effort in West Des Moines to cancel the contract with Tom Conley’s security firm. The Des Moines Register wrote at length about private email conversations Conley had in which he disparaged the Black Lives Matter movement.

We wrote about that ordeal here. If you want to refresh or learn about it, I encourage you to check the story out.

The city of West Des Moines terminated its contract with Conley’s company due to his First Amendment free speech exercise. And guess which West Des Moines councilperson spearheaded this endeavor?

Yes. Renee Hardman.

Hardman worked behind the scenes to get Conley’s security firm punished for his First Amendment exercise.

Hardman was the council member who said she’d set up a meeting with Conley to address his comments regarding BLM. And she said the council would evaluate its contract with Conley’s firm after further investigation.

“I am a proponent of free speech,” Hardman said. “But I am also a proponent that if we have someone that is using that language that is espoused in this article, that we need to really really examine is it the place for us to be doing business. Because it is the leadership at the top that sets the tone for its employees.”

On July 19, Hardman sent this message to Tom Hadden, the West Des Moines City Manager:

“Please start looking for different options for the security function. Vet them well. This CEO’s comments will destroy what we are trying to do here in West Des Moines. Also – please reach out to him to see when he is available for a 30 minute meeting. Ask him to give you a couple options. Thank you. Renee.”

Keep in mind Hardman immediately asked Hadden to look for different security options as you read the rest of the story. And it is clear Hardman was wanting different options due to the “comments” (stated opinions) of Tom Conley. 

Conley and Hardman met on July 22 with Hadden.

Prior to the meeting, however, Hardman received a text message from a person called Al Womble. The text came in on July 22 at 1:05 p.m. Here was the exchange:

HARDMAN: “Oh my – wish me good luck – I have a 4 pm meeting with this man. I am doing what I said I would do – listen, learn & lead. Thank you for speaking at the city council meeting.”

WOMBLE: Good luck Renee, I appreciate your hard work.

HARDMAN: Al-I am so disturbed by this man!!!!”

WOMBLE: I understand. We should not have public money going to a person like this.

HARDMAN: We are on the same page. I have asked Tom to immediately start looking for alternative options.

Following the meeting, Conley told Hardman he would like to take her up on an offer to meet and provide more detailed information about BLM.

“I am also hoping your perspective can help me better understand the real issues and possible solutions to the unhealthy divide that exists in our great nation,” Conley wrote. “If there is a time when we can meet during an afternoon or evening, I would very much welcome and appreciate that opportunity.”

It appears Hardman only forwarded that email to Hadden, and Dick Scieszinski, the city attorney.

Contract set to be terminated

On July 29, a person called Jane Dodge (who lists her pronouns as she/her/hers and has a link in her email signature on “why pronouns matter) sent an email regarding the agreement with Conley’s security firm. Dodge is the Human Resources Director for West Des Moines.

“We do not feel that this vendor represents the voices of our community and his comments are not ones that we stand behind,” Dodge wrote. “I wanted to inform you that the city manager’s office will make a recommendation at this Monday’s city council meeting to sever this service agreement.”

It appears Hardman was the only council member to receive that email.

Hadden wrote in a July 29 email the city was working with the police department to set up a “part-time group of retirees” to work the front desk, noting it should be ready within 60 days.

“We will have a gap solution which we are currently working on for the short term,” Hadden wrote.

Hadden notified Conley on July 30 the council would take action on the contract that allows either party to end the agreement within 30 days. He also told Conley the recommendation is to end the contract.

Conley’s attorney sent a letter to West Des Moines on Aug. 1. Scieszinski responded to the letter on Aug. 2 saying the item would be withdrawn from consideration at the Aug. 2 council meeting.

Hardman solicits speaker

Prior to Hardman knowing the vote would not happen on Aug. 1, Hardman was recruiting people to come speak at the meeting. She sent this text on Aug. 1 to a person called Ryan Crane.

“If you are free Monday night at 5:30 p.m.-the council is voting on his contract. Come share your thoughts on how you feel. (Heart emoji).”

Crane responded:

“Yes! Good. Thank you for bringing this up.”

Hardman let a person called Fred Levy know about the letter threatening suit. Based on Hardman’s text message, the letter sent to the city attorney notified them of a potential lawsuit from Conley.

“I know it is late,” Hardman wrote on Aug. 1 at 10:25 p.m. “Confidentially, Tom Connolly (sic) has sent us a letter that he is suing West Des Moines. He sent a 3 page letter to us. He is suing. Confidential.”

Meanwhile, Hardman reached out to Womble by text again on Aug. 1. On Aug. 2, Womble told Hardman he was going to create a Facebook post and invite people to come and show support at the council meeting to discuss the Conley contract.

Hardman responded with this:

Womble told Hardman many of the people he invited showed up.

“5 people speaking on one issue is remarkable!!” Hardman responded.

After that early August meeting, it appears Hardman received a text message from Russ T. The records do not indicate exactly who Russ T. is, but a person called Russ Trimble was on the council then and is now the mayor of West Des Moines in 2021. He sent screenshots of the story from the Register regarding the meeting in which terminating Conley’s contract was pulled off the agenda.

“Steve stole our thunder,” Russ T. wrote, likely referring to then-mayor Steve Gaer.

Gaer was quoted in the story as saying with the renovations made to city hall, security services were no longer needed. He guaranteed the contract with be legally terminated in 30 days or when it expired at the end of the year.

It was interesting to see Gaer note security services were no longer needed since Hardman had Hadden immediately start looking for a replacement. And Hadden himself had said the city was working with the police department to find part-time retirees to work the desk, but it would take 60 days. 

Nonetheless, I digress…

“This is why I asked him to talk to you and let you know what he was going to say,” Russ T. wrote. “This is part of what we could have said on the 16th. Oh well.”

Hardman responded:

“Here the Register just quotes two black women. The Register is a trip!”

Hardman has exchange with concerned resident

On Aug. 14, a West Des Moines resident reached out to Hardman to see how she voted on the Conley ordeal.

“Do you uphold free speech and the Constitution or do you agree with taking away the right to free speech and a man’s livelihood for speaking the truth and calling a terrorist organization that loots, burns, riots and kills what it is,” the resident wrote. “I don’t know this man but I sure will defend his right to speak the truth!”

Hardman responded, stating the vote hadn’t taken place yet.

“While not sure of the outcome of the vote at this time, as you know there are five city councilpersons who will be voting on this issue. As for whether I am a Republican or Democrat, my service to the City has nothing to do with my political affiliation — NEVER has and never will,” Hardman responded.

The resident responded, asking once more if Hardman had “some bias” or if she is for free speech and the Constitution.

“Do you think this is a good time with the current political tension to fire a security firm and leave our city vulnerable or is there another reason for the council taking this action,” the resident asked. “Something else is going on here that no one is talking about. The email does not rise to the level of justifying removing security from our city.”

On Aug. 16, Congressman Steve King sent an email to members of the West Des Moines City Council and staff. He also sent one to Hardman.

King pointed out that there are two sources of discontent regarding the security firm’s contract. He noted it wasn’t the security services sparking the outrage, just the alleged and published opinions of Conley himself.

“It is publicly evident the sources of discontent are a BLM activist on your city council and the Des Moines Register itself,” King wrote. “Both are steeped in an ideology in conflict with the Freedom of Speech rights of those with whom they disagree, in particular Mr. Conley.

“Each of us in public service swear an oath to uphold the Constitution and to ‘faithfully and impartially’ discharge our duties. Freedom of speech comes first.”

King urged them to “do the right thing for the right reason rather than the wrong thing for the wrong reason.”

Hardman says she spent a lot of political capital to get 5-0 vote to terminate contract

Prior to the Aug. 16 meeting, Hardman also received an email from a person called Betty Andrews, the President of the Iowa-Nebraska NAACP. Andrews told Hardman she just received a note regarding the West Des Moines council discussing the Conley contract.

The two then attempted to connect on a phone call.

Hardman sent another text to Ryan Crane, who she invited to speak at the meeting earlier in August.

“Hi Ryan -are you coming tonight. Things are getting very interesting! I’m getting emails,” Hardman wrote.

Crane said he wasn’t planning on it since he had “heard assurances last week.”

“I got a letter from Steven King,” Hardman responded.

Crane responded with a “mind-blown” emoji.

Following the meeting, Womble sent the following text to Hardman:

“You are a bright shining star and none of this could have been possible without you.”

She responded, “Thank you Al. I appreciate you showing up for 3-4 city council mtgs to engage.”

Perhaps the most damning communication proving Hardman led this charge to punish Conley over his First Amendment exercise was this text exchange with a person called Kevin Patrick.

Patrick texted a link to the Register article on West Des Moines terminating the contract with Conley, noting “well done.”

Hardman responded:

“Thank you Kevin. When life gets a bit better – we have to grab a bite – I have used every once of put all (sic, likely meant political) capital to garner this 5-0 vote. We will get sued – but we have decided it is a fight worth fighting. I have already received a distasteful letter from the former US Congressman Steve King. I am so PROUD of my City Councilpersons for getting into ‘Good Trouble.'”

Levy, who Hardman had “confidentially” told about Conley’s letter threatening a lawsuit, sent Hardman a text on Aug. 17, telling her she is an “inspirational leader.”

“So proud to be your friend. I learn from you through every interaction. Congratulations on achieving this unanimous vote through passion and force of will,” Levy wrote.

Hardman responded:

“Thank you Frank-I woke up today so drained and anxious about the fallout. Got a disturbing letter from former US Congressman Steve King reprimanding me. I must stay strong and fight through.”

Levy told Hardman a letter of reprimand (which it hardly was) from Steve King is a “badge of honor.”

“You should frame it,” he wrote.

Hardman, who apparently is not a historian, sent a message to a person called Rosemary Parson celebrating the vote.

“An important historic vote we made just last Monday,” Hardman wrote. “I received a very disturbing email from former US Congressman Steven King reprimanding me for the vote.”

In an Aug. 27 email, Hardman called Conley’s account of their meeting “a grave mischaracterization” with a “number of inaccuracies.” She said that was “as expected.”

Because Hardman referred to the email Congressman King sent her as “disturbing” and “distasteful,” we thought we’d share the full email and let readers decide if Hardman was providing an honest portrayal of it:

Now, Hardman has her own beliefs as well — just like Tom Conley and just like Freedom Blend Coffee. For instance, Hardman is a vocal piece of the Black Lives Matter movement.

Here she addresses a protest in West Des Moines on the death of George Floyd.

She also told the “young people” they would lose friends over the conversations they’d have to have.

“You’re gonna lose some people that you thought were close to you over these tough conversations,” she said. “But you’ve got to, you’ve got to decide what is more important — standing up for justice? Or just getting along?”

At an event remembering George Floyd one year after his death Hardman spoke out against House File 802, which banned teaching divisive concepts as facts in schools in Iowa — saying that people need to examine their internal biases to address systemic racism.

Is Hardman using her positions at government entities to punish people based on political and/or religious beliefs? It certainly appears that way.

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