Are some Land Board transactions unconstitutional? A quick look at a complex issue

As with any issue involving the Idaho Land Board and endowment land, nothing is ever easy to understand or explain.

A public records request by the Idaho Conservation League revealed hundreds of state land transactions dating back to the 1890s that appear to violate an obscure provision of Idaho constitution relating to how much state land can be sold off to one individual or business. Though the Idaho Department of Lands is ordering an audit of the records, director Tom Schultz says the land transactions are more complicated than the ICL’s database indicates.

Here’s the jist: The state of Idaho regularly auctions off and sells endowment land. The Idaho constitution limits individuals and corporations to purchasing 320 acres of public school land and 160 acres of University of Idaho land.

Since statehood, the Land Board — composed of the governor, attorney general, secretary of state, state superintendent, and controller — may have allowed individuals or corporation to purchase far more than the 320 acres. In total, more than 200,000 acres of land sold by the state were sold to people or entities that had surpassed the 320 cap, said Jonathan Oppenheimer, government affairs director for the ICL. What’s more, the primary beneficiaries were some of Idaho’s most politically connected families and corporations.

Two important notes: Some of these violations occurred more than one hundred years ago, meaning the current land board, chaired by Gov. Butch Otter, isn’t responsible for the vast majority of those issues. (The most recent questionable transaction, which was initiated in 1975, was finalized in 2015. Today’s board hasn’t initiated any questionable transactions, according to the documents.)

Also, though many prominent ranching families, like the Littles, the Newcombs, the Bracketts, the Ricks, and the Bedkes, appear in the database, no current state elected officials or lawmakers appear to be listed in the transactions. (And, as Lt. Gov. Brad Little quipped to Idaho Reports, the statute of limitations on his grandfather’s land purchases passed long ago.)

But the database doesn’t tell the whole story.

“The Supreme Court said the state’s obligation to track this issue is to the person they had the initial contract with,” Schultz said. “Who that person may have sold that contract to or what was done subsequent to them getting the deed, was not the obligation of the state to track that in perpetuity.”

How might someone’s name legitimately appear on multiple records exceeding 320 acres? Some transactions took place over 30 or more years. If a David Smith bought 320 acres, then bought an additional 320 acres from John Doe in the middle of his contract with the state, David Smith’s name would show up on the final deed. That would be a legal transaction.

In other cases, multiple family members may all buy separate parcels of land. That was the case with Little’s parents, he said. His mother bought 320 acres and his father bought 320 acres.

There are other possibilities, including human error. Many of these records have been transcribed multiple times, decades before we could look at this on Excel spreadsheets.

But Oppenheimer said he’s concerned that there’s nothing stopping the Land Board from violating the constitution in the future. Because some in state government are asking for transfer of federal lands to state control, the discussion has a new urgency, Oppenheimer said.

“Even if something is written in the constitution, if no one is watching, it might not matter,” Oppenheimer said.

Idaho Reports will have much more on this on our Feb. 24, 2017 episode. In the meantime, here’s a clip of Schultz explaining how complex some of these Land Board issues are:

 

Standard

Six Idaho officials on their vision for Idaho

In a year of uncertainty — about the economy, about floods and fires, about how changes in DC will affect existing policy, lawmakers have two choices: Wait and see, or forge ahead and shape a new path.

We sat down with six Idaho officials to see what their visions are for Idaho’s future. We asked them to share their best case scenarios, worst case scenarios, and what they think will actually happen.

The result: Six interesting conversations with wide-ranging ideas, including improving the economy, more state control, making education more flexible for local needs, and artificial intelligence.

We didn’t have enough time in the show to put everything in, but we wanted to make the conversations available here. For more, including the pundits’ discussion on where leadership is coming from in Idaho, watch the Feb. 10 episode of Idaho Reports, available at idahoptv.org/idreports.

 

 

 

 

Standard

Is Brent Hill running for lieutenant governor?

As we’ve said on Idaho Reports before, the most exciting part of the 2016 election season was speculating about the upcoming 2018 races.

One rumor we’ve repeatedly heard: Will Senate President Pro Tem Brent Hill, R-Rexburg, run for lieutenant governor?

In a Wednesday interview with Idaho Reports producer Seth Ogilvie, Hill gave us his answer. For more with Hill and other lawmakers on their five-year vision for Idaho, watch the Feb. 10 episode of Idaho reports.

 

Standard

Court record system roll-out delayed in 10 counties

supremecourt4

Idaho Supreme Court. Photo by Nishant Mohan, Idaho Reports

By Nishant Mohan, Melissa Davlin and Seth Ogilvie, Idaho Reports

The Idaho Supreme Court has delayed implementation of a new court records system in Idaho after hearing concerns from counties across the state.

The delay comes in the wake of revenue shortfalls for the courts and unexpected costs for the two counties, Ada and Twin Falls, which already have the system.

The roll out of Odyssey, which is replacing the discontinued iStars system, was initially scheduled for April for ten counties. That has now been moved to October. Sara Thomas, administrative director for the Idaho Supreme Court, said in an e-mail to county clerks that the state plans to improve business processes and implement enhanced features of the technology that will make roll-out more effective.

“We know all of you have been working hard and were ready to launch in a few months,” Thomas wrote in the e-mail to counties. “However, we feel it is important to intensify our efforts in Twin Falls County and Ada County to address high impact areas and improve the efficiencies of the court case management system prior to bringing on additional counties.”

The money factor

The problems with the Odyssey roll out aren’t new. The Idaho Supreme Court is facing a projected $3.7 million shortfall in revenue for Odyssey implementation. The courts initially hoped civil case filing fees and one-time general fund allocations would pay for the roll-out, which was pitched to the Legislature in 2014.

The initial bill that enabled the creation of Odyssey also increased court filing fees. Patti Tobias, Thomas’ predecessor, wrote in the bill’s statement of purpose and fiscal note that the increase in fees would add an estimated $5.4 million in annual revenue for the state’s Court Technology Fund.

That hasn’t happened. The number of civil filings have dropped both in Idaho and nationwide, according to a presentation by Thomas to the joint budget committee in fall 2016.

In addition, there have been other unexpected costs, especially for IT personnel and administrative staff on the state level. According to the presentation, the Idaho Supreme Court has already redirected $7.4 million to iCourt from other activities in response, and reduced the scope of a video conferencing project to save resources.

There were also unanticipated costs on the county level. Twin Falls County, which received the new software in 2015, is paying $163,430 annually for four employees the clerk’s office hired to handle continuing strains put on their system by Odyssey.

Anticipating the change

The other 42 counties are set to launch over the next two years. Thomas said in the e-mail that counties can still expect to be on the system by the end of 2018.

“(The delay) confirms that there’s issues with the rollout,” said Pam Eckhardt, Bingham County Clerk. Eckhardt’s office is not scheduled to launch with the program until October 2018. Still, the issues affect everyone, she said.

“What it means in the meantime is that the state is operating on two different systems,” Eckhardt said. “Right now, we have limited support for iStars. You’ve got IT people for the state trying to support two systems.”

Karen Volbrecht, lead clerk in Bear Lake County, which is set to roll out with Bingham County, said she would have liked to have the program sooner.

“We would like to be in the same position as the rest of the state,” Volbrecht said. “Though one nice thing is I expect they’ll have a lot of the bugs worked out by then.”

Passing along concerns

As Twin Falls and Ada settled into the new system, the other counties looked to them to see what to expect.

By replacing more than just the record keeping, judges and litigants have access to their documents from anywhere. However, problems with the switch include more than transition costs – the new program is having lasting effects as well.

“The previous system was more structured to serve the clerks,” said Phil McGrane, Ada County Chief Deputy Clerk. “The clerks are the wheels and the cogs and the new system has proven to be very inefficient for them.”

McGrane said it was good for Ada County to be one of the first; As a large county, Ada handles cases of every kind. If it works there, it should work everywhere else.

“Many people are welcoming the change,” McGrane said. “But it’s safe to say it’s been more challenging than we anticipated. Our court system is way more complicated than we ever gave it credit for.”

Thomas, who was hired as the administrative director in 2016, said she recognizes the ISC administration misses issues. Before the delay announcement, Thomas and others at the Supreme Court were working with clerks to address concerns and set up trainings.

“The elected clerks meet twice a year. One of the first things I did when I became the administrative director is I went to one of those meetings,” Thomas said. “And I got an earful.”

Small counties, big problems

Though the two counties are settling into the system, Twin Falls and Ada are still having issues, largely from employees learning new processes.

Their transition stories have spooked county clerks in other areas of the state. Without much other information, those concerns dominate the discussion of the switch.

“The only thing they have to go by is seeing what’s happening in Ada and Twin,” Thomas said.

Kathy Ackerman, Idaho County Clerk and president of the Idaho Association of Clerks and Commissioners, said counties can assign two of their clerks as subject matter expert and onsite coordinator to travel in the months ahead of roll-out to receive training and return to train the rest of the staff.

“When you have a large county, you can take two people away from their desks. Not so in small counties,” Ackerman said. “You can also hire temps. Well guess what? In Grangeville, Idaho, you’re going to have trouble finding a deputy clerk temp.”

Ackerman said much of the system is set up to be job-specific. She said this is fine in large, specialized clerks offices, in which there might be one person whose only job is scheduling arraignments. That person needs to learn only one level of the program.

“I only have four clerks, and they all do everything,” Ackerman said. “That is going to be a problem. My clerks will have to cover all the jobs necessary, and that’s going to require another person at least.”

In contrast, the Ada County Clerks office currently employs about 110 court clerks, McGrane said.

Since Twin Falls went live with Odyssey in 2015, Twin Falls County Clerk Kristina Glascock said she has seen improvements. Glascock created a temporary position in each of her four teams of five to seven clerks to keep on schedule. With those four positions now permanent, the system is now working well.

There are pros and cons to being the first out of the gate, Glascock said. And though the transition was tough at times, it was necessary.

“I would never do it again, just because of how time intensive it is to be the pilot,” Glascock said. “But Idaho is set now. iStars was at the end of its life. The old company didn’t have a lot of the features we needed to add.”

Standard

A small sample of complaints over non-emergency medical transportation services

By Melissa Davlin, Idaho Reports

 

On Thursday, Idaho Reports released part one of a series on issues surrounding non-emergency medical services (NEMT) for Medicaid patients in Idaho. San Diego-based company Veyo provides NEMT services in Idaho through independent drivers and locally owned transportation companies.

The story was the result of a public records request over complaints regarding transportation. You can read part one here. Lawmakers also heard about Veyo-related issues during a joint Health and Welfare committee hearing on Friday morning.

Here is a sample of the nearly 400 complaints over transportation since July 1, 2016, copied directly from the public records requested and lightly edited to remove identifying details:

 
-A Veyo driver entered the wrong home while dropping off a client, despite the client saying she didn’t live there. The occupant of the home called police on the driver.

-Client (Down Syndrome) was dropped off in the yard and wandered (luckily) into the back yard. Family and service providers have repeatedly told Veyo driver must, for safety reasons, walk her to the door and ensure she gets safely into the house.

-Over the past 2 weeks, (clinet) has had to cancel 3 of her appointments due to Veyo mess -ups. She may be charged for missing her appointment and not giving 24hrs notice

-Client was scheduled to be picked up at 6:00 PM. He left here at 6:15 PM. When he hadn’t arrived at home by 7:00 PM his provider tried to call Veyo because she was getting worried that he wasn’t home yet. No one was answering at Veyo. Client sister was notified by a friend that Client was down the road at Maverick. The provider ran down to Maverick. By the time he got there the police were already there. Client was not walked up to the door by his transportation driver. When the driver left instead of going into the house he went down the road to the gas station. He then climbed into the back seat of a woman’s car that was inside. When she got back into the car she heard movement in the back seat. She was very scared and ran back inside the store and the police were called. Her reaction scared Client and he took off into the dark park that was near the gas station. The police were able to locate Client and brought him back to gas station. The provider reported the incident to Veyo this morning (Tuesday) and was told that someone would call her in the next two days. Someone called her around 1:00 today (Tuesday) regarding Client behavior in the car on the ride home. They knew nothing about the incident that happened the night before and then told the provider that there were no instructions on Client trips indicating that he needed to be walked to the door.

-Client being transported by Veyo to Facility took approximately 10 pills of Risperdal while on transport. No one saw this? He doesn’t swallow pills, but chews them up, not to mention he can’t get into a child proof lid. When he arrived at Facility, the staff noticed the white powder around his mouth and investigated and found the empty bottle. He was kept at the hospital for observation for several hours, then he was admitted to the hospital because his EKG is bad–the medication has affected his heart (about 3:00pm). The Facility supervisor called Veyo and asked for the name of the driver that transported and they said they would talk to family directly. We needed the information for doctors at the ER but were unable to get it.

-17yr old was dropped off by Veyo independent driver and went into the wrong house even though child said it was the wrong house; police were called because resident was scared;

-Client was dropped off 2 and 1/2 hours late. Mom was so panicked that she sent neighbors out looking for him. Client is a child and non-verbal and parent reported he was stressed when he got home due to be on transportation for so long.

-Child did not receive a ride from her school to appt as scheduled at 2:30pm. Staff called Veyo who reports no driver had accepted the ride. She missed her appointment. The Clinician reports that this particular person has an incredibly low rate of attendance because of her transport problems and the lack of counseling is affecting her quality of life.

-Client is a child with issues around routine and abandonment; he was left at school because the driver was running late. He missed his appt and was left at school without proper supervision.

-Adult with mental illness reports being raped by a driver of Tiger Medical Transport; reported to authorities.

-Provider in Emmett reports that they have had a 6YO with Autism dropped off outside of the building; 11YO dropped off inside of home, but without an adult to supervise; preferred providers not dispatched; appointments cancelled even after confirmation; when they call, Veyo says they will call back, but never do.

-Elderly independent driver brought him in. Needed complete assistance to get him out; not equipped to keep child safe on road.

-School gets out at 2:40pm; Despite the fact that mom has called Veyo to schedule a ride at 2:40pm Client has been sitting in the office at school until 3:40pm–1hr after school end time; School Vice Principal is making a report to Veyo because this is not acceptable; Client is over 1hr late to his appt daily.

Standard

Medical transport services result in complaints over safety issues

img_6911banner

Photo by Seth Ogilvie/Idaho Reports

Note: This is part one of a series exploring non-emergency medical transport services for Medicaid patients in Idaho.

By Melissa Davlin, Idaho Reports

On a cold night in November, a state contracted service “could have led to the death of a special needs child,” according to documents obtained by Idaho Reports.

After a medical appointment, a driver with a transportation company for Medicaid clients dropped off a teenager with special needs at the wrong Owyhee County home.

No one knows what happened in the two hours between when the driver left and when the teenager’s mother found him near a busy street. The young man, a Medicaid client, is non-verbal. The driver, an employee of a Meridian-based transportation company, claims he walked the young man to the back door of the house. That’s unlikely; There were people home at the time who didn’t see him.

“Most likely the driver let him out of the vehicle and drove away,” says a complaint filed with the state. The incident “resulted in stress and trauma for everyone involved in the incident,” and forced the client, who has a compromised immune system, to spend two hours standing outside in the cold.

The incident, confirmed via an Owyhee County Sheriff’s Office report, is one of almost 400 lodged over Idaho’s non-emergency medical transportation services in the last six months. An Idaho Reports investigation revealed issues including tardiness, poor customer service, inadequate safety measures, alleged sexual assault, and life-endangering mistakes — but issues with the transportation services started well before last year.

A necessary service

Some Medicaid patients are entitled to transportation to doctor visits, therapy sessions, and other medical appointments. The broker of those transportation services: Veyo, the California-based company that provides non-emergency transportation services (NEMT) for Idaho Medicaid patients. Veyo works with commercial transportation providers, like Freedom Shuttle, as well as hundreds of independent drivers in an Uber-like model.

Last year, Veyo won a $71 million contract to provide transportation for medical appointments, beating out AMR, the previous NEMT contractor. That contract went into effect July 1, 2016.

The complaints, which Idaho Reports obtained via public records request, started that day. Some involve Veyo and its services, while others are aimed at the local commercial providers.

Priest River resident James Bayles said his 28-year-old daughter, Caitlin, has cerebral palsy, and relies on a local transportation company to give her rides from her care center to medical appointments. His frustrations with Veyo began almost right away. Though the transportation service is locally owned and has worked with Caitlin in the past, Bayles has to go through Veyo to schedule rides. Any changes takes 48 hours, even if the change is the result of Veyo’s mistake — a scenario that Bayles said played out in late December, when Veyo’s computer system automatically kicked Caitlin off the schedule because of a glitch.

The rural area has only one transportation service, and that service has only one van with a wheelchair lift. If that van is already booked or out of commission, Bayles, a disabled veteran, must transport Caitlin himself — a task that causes him severe back pain. He has to pick her up to place her in and out of the car, and secure her heavy motorized wheelchair to the back of his vehicle.

Bayles trusts the local company to take care of Caitlin, but is concerned for other families in the community that rely on the independent drivers dispatched by Veyo.

“We’re talking about the most vulnerable population in the state,” Bayles said. Clients with autism, bipolar disorder, or other conditions rely on consistency.

“With changing the driver, just whoever happens to be there with their Uber ready to pick them up? These people don’t do well with change,” Bayles said.

Christine Pisani, Executive Director at the Idaho Council on Developmental Disabilities, said relationships and trust are critical when working with vulnerable populations. Small frustrations and changes can upset clients, sometimes resulting in behavioral issues.

A pattern of complaints

Bayles isn’t alone in his concerns. Most grievances involve drivers who are late, far too early, or totally absent, but some mistakes have endangered clients’ lives.

During one transport in late November, a male client got into a pill bottle and chewed up multiple pills of Risperdal, a drug taken for bipolar disorder.

“No one saw this?” the complaint says. Staff at the facility noticed the white powder on his face and took him to the hospital, where he was admitted for supervision after a bad electrocardiogram.

“The facility supervisor called Veyo and asked for the name of the driver that transported and they said they would talk to family directly,” the complaint says. “We needed the information for doctors at the ER but were unable to get it.”

One complaint, also in November, alleges sexual assault of an adult female passenger by the driver. Several complaints regard children or special-needs clients being dropped off without supervision. In a December incident, a client with Down syndrome was dropped off alone in front of her home. She wandered into her own back yard, where she was found. “Family and service providers have repeatedly told Veyo driver must, for safety reasons, walk her to the door and ensure she gets safely into the house,” the complaint says.

Numbers and context

Matt Wimmer, Administrator for the Division of Medicaid at the Department of Health and Welfare, said the department works closely with Veyo to address concerns.

Issues with NEMT aren’t new, though. Wimmer pointed out the raw numbers of complaints against Veyo line up with complaints against AMR, the previous contractor — and if anything, are slightly fewer.

In October 2015, when AMR held the contract, the Department of Health and Welfare received 99 complaints. In October 2016, four months after Veyo took over, the state received 70 complaints.

That month alone, Veyo administered 101,697 trips in Idaho, of which 6,366 were from independent driver providers, Wimmer said.

“(Seventy complaints) is actually not bad, considering the level of service,” Wimmer said.

So if this was the standard all along, are Medicaid workers comfortable with the complaints and safety issues?

Wimmer said due to the nature of transportation and all the related variables — traffic, weather, car maintenance — there will always be complaints about tardiness. He also pointed out the number of logistics involved with what seems like a basic transportation service: Getting appointment information from clients or third parties, making sure that information is entered correctly, and relaying the correct information to the driver.

But even a single complaint regarding the safety of a client, Wimmer said, “is one too many.”

Aiming to improve

Josh Komenda, the San Diego-based CEO of Veyo, said his company takes every complaint seriously, especially those involving client safety.

“We’re really aware of the problems and frustrations,” Komenda said, adding he realizes tardiness can add to a client’s stress. “Honestly, our heart breaks if someone has a frustration or failure.”

Komenda said Veyo has completed more than 525,000 trips in Idaho since taking over in July. Of those, majority — 93 percent — have been carried out by local contracted companies.

He acknowledged hiccups in the transition, as well as challenges unique to Idaho. Some rural addresses, for example, don’t show up accurately on maps. The Veyo team is addressing this, Komenda said, and is working on rolling out a new GPS tracking system that will help clients and Veyo call center staff locate where drivers are in real-time.

“We’re 110 percent committed to continuing to improve the quality,” Komenda said.

The chairman’s view

House Health and Welfare Chairman Fred Wood, R-Burley, said he’s heard almost no complaints over Veyo’s services. While he does want to hear the concerns, he said he wasn’t going to get too excited until he’d studied the issue.

“Any time there’s change, people really seem to have a problem,” Wood said, pointing to past transition issues with Medicaid contractors Optum and Melina. Those issues were ironed out, Wood said, and he expects the same will happen with Veyo.

And if it doesn’t? That’s up to the Department of Health and Welfare to deal with, Wood said.

“The legislature is not going to interfere with a state contract,” Wood said. But, he said, his primary concern is making sure Medicaid patients get to their appointments safely.

Bayles, the Priest River father, said he has contacted his lawmakers, and is paying attention to who will help him fix the problem. He said Rep. Heather Scott and Sen. Shawn Keough have been responsive and interested in helping him.

“I know it’s going to be a political process,” Bayles said. “I’ll find the ones who are on our side.” And for those who aren’t, he said, he’ll work to get them voted out of office.
Next week: The business side of medical transportation

Standard

US Attorney Wendy Olson stepping down Feb. 25

wendyolson.jpg

US Attorney Wendy Olson. Source: Idaho Reports

 

By Seth Ogilvie, Idaho Reports

U.S. Attorney Wendy Olson will step down on February 25th. She has served almost twenty years in the U.S. Attorney’s Office, including the last six in charge of the district of Idaho.

It’s customary for political appointees to serve at the discretion of the president. Having been sworn in by President Barack Obama, Olson anticipated a change would be coming under the new Trump administration. “I wanted to be able to chose my own departure date and move on at a date that worked for me,” Olson said.

Days after she decided to resign her post, Olson charged Kelly Schneider on federal hate crimes, alleging assault based on the victim’s sexual orientation after the beating death of Steven Nelson in April 2016. “It is my case, and I will get as much done on it as I can before I have to leave.” Olson said. Schneider pleaded guilty on Jan. 25.

The indictment is a good mirror of her service in the office, working until the last minute and focusing on civil rights violations. “Any of the lawyers we have in this office are outstanding and folk will make sure this (case) has an orderly transition.” Olson said.

She was involved with several high profile incidents, including the terrorism case against Fazliddin Kurbanov, reviewing the Corrections Corporation of America incident involving falsified documents, filing an amicus brief on Idaho’s public defense system, and investigating the officer-involved shooting of Jack Yantis.

Olson had a diverse tenure but said “an office of outstanding lawyers and support staff that work hard every day for the U.S. and the people” and “civil rights enforcement” are the legacies she is most proud of.

The office will not change significantly in her absence, Olson said. “The goals of the people who work in this office are not to do what I want, it is to follow the law and to follow the constitution.” No matter who fills her position, she added, “I’m confident things will continue to be done that way.”

The future is open for Olson but she does plan to stay in Boise. “I have family here and I anticipate I will go into private practice,” she said. “I am not going to run for political office. I have no interest in running for political office.”

So moving forward the people of Idaho will have to pay Wendy Olson out of their own pockets for her legal expertise.

Standard