Fight over office space prompts cease and desist letter

By Melissa Davlin, Idaho Reports

Contention over limited office space in the statehouse has prompted a cease and desist letter from a former constitutional officer.

Last week, Ron Crane sent a letter to two members of House leadership demanding they stop citing Crane as a supporter of an effort to move the State Treasurer from the first floor of the capitol, opening up that space for House member offices.

The letter references a March 15 appearance on KBOI by House Minority Leader Mat Erpelding and House Assistant Majority Leader Jason Monks. In the interview, Erpelding said Crane had an agreement with the legislature that the state treasurer’s office should move from the first floor of the Idaho Statehouse after Crane retired so lawmakers could take over the space.

“Ron Crane hereby demands that both of you cease and desist stating, writing, or inferring that Ron Crane, at any time, as a party to any agreement to voluntarily relocate the Idaho State Treasurer’s physical office, or its functions, either during or after his tenure, out of the Idaho State Capitol building,” the letter states. “Any statement or implication to that effect is not true.”

In a Tuesday interview with Idaho Reports, Erpelding acknowledged he may have misspoken on the radio. “However, my intention was to say that Ron Crane was well aware of the legislature’s intent to move to the first floor,” Erpelding said. “He was not in the dark about this at any time.”

On Tuesday afternoon, the House Republican Caucus issued a statement saying Crane’s letter was unnecessary and extreme. “(A) simple phone call to discuss the interview would have been sufficient,” said House Speaker Scott Bedke in the statement. “House Assistant Majority Leader Jason Monks and Minority Party Leader, Mat Erpelding, were simply responding to an interview by the current Treasurer on 670 KBOI with Nate Shelman regarding an agreement that was made more than a decade ago. Instead of forcing the move then, a gentleman’s agreement was made to hold off on the move until the former Treasurer retired. That time has come.”

A long-simmering fight

Crane also provided 2018 correspondence between Crane and Bedke on the issue, as well as minutes from two 2007 Capitol Commission meetings, which he says negate the claim he ever agreed to a move. 

In a January 2018 letter to Crane, Bedke pointed to a section of Idaho Code that gives the legislature control of the first floor of the statehouse. “The Legislature temporarily allocated first-floor space to the State Treasurer, but that allocation was temporary and was meant to last only until the Legislature needed more space,” Bedke wrote.

“I was involved in the immediate follow-up discussions when the Governor and the legislative leadership reached a compromise on the allocation of space,” Crane wrote to Bedke in February 2018. “At that time, the Governor asked me if I wanted to move to the second floor or remain in my current office space on the first floor. My response was that I wished to retain the office space on the first floor, next to the original vault. The Governor agreed to this request and I do not recall any discussion of this being a temporary situation.”

Crane also included a 2007 letter from Gov. C.L. “Butch” Otter to Senate President Pro Tem Robert Geddes that supports his claim.

“In summary, the State Treasurer shall occupy all of the office space located on the south side of the east wing of the first floor. The use of the words “temporary basis” was not and will not be a part of any agreement,” the unsigned letter says.

Minutes from 2007 Capitol Commission meetings do not say the treasurer’s occupation of the office would be temporary.

Moving ahead

Though current treasurer Julie Ellsworth has also opposed vacating the first floor, lawmakers are moving forward with the expansion. Crane’s letter comes as the Legislature considers an emergency $10 million appropriation to fund the new office space and a remodel of the east wing first floor, as well as a bill that would remove the requirement that moneys kept by the State Treasurer must be stored in the vault located on the first floor. 

The fight over office space centers on lawmakers’ complaints over inadequate cubicle space in the basement of the capitol. While all of Idaho’s 35 senators have private offices, 49 of the House’s 70 members are in cramped cubicles without doors. Bill Spence of the Lewiston Tribune has more on the fight here. 

Rep. Brent Crane, Ron Crane’s son, said he doesn’t support the $10 million appropriation for the move and remodel, and will vote against it. 

“I think it’s going to be very problematic to try to defend that,” Crane said, who also voted against the bill regarding the vault. (That bill was sponsored by Monks, who succeeded Rep. Crane as House Assistant Majority Leader.)

Brent Crane called the expansion to the first floor short-sighted, saying he didn’t think it took into account the need for more legislative staff members in the future.

Instead, he hopes leadership will look at other options, pointing to lawmakers’ previous occupation of the basement in the JR Williams building across State Street.

Erpelding disagreed.

“The only way to effectively allow for space for legislators and staff… is to look at the first floor,” he said.

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