Brent Coles once agreed to never run for office again.

By Seth Ogilvie, Idaho Reports

As former Boise Mayor H. Brent Coles prepares once again to enter the political world, the disgraced politician is staying mum on an agreement he made with a judge to not run for elected office in the Gem State.

According to court documents, Coles once agreed to be “disqualified indefinitely and permanently from holding any office in the state of Idaho.”


That promise was made in 2003 after Coles pleaded guilty to one count of misusing public funds and one count of presenting a fraudulent voucher while serving as Boise’s mayor.

At the time, 4th District Judge Thomas Neville told Coles he was “disqualified indefinitely and permanently” from running for elected office in the judge’s initial withholding judgment and probation order. 

In Idaho, these agreements work like a contract. Coles agreed to the terms to receive probation.

Idaho Reports reached out to Judge Neville through colleagues and the Idaho courts to interpret the order but were unable to reach him.  

Idaho Reports also reached out to Coles via Facebook Messenger and asked him what his understanding of the probation agreement was and received this comment:  Screen Shot 2019-09-13 at 5.38.44 PM.

Essentially, Coles provided us with a new way to say “no comment.” 

During the sentencing hearing back in 2004, Coles was more verbose. 

“I apologize to taxpayers and citizens of this community in whose trust I broke,” Coles said. “So I want you to know I accept full responsibility for that.” 

Coles continued: “I am aware of the pain and anguish that has occurred in this community. It will haunt me for the rest of my life.”

News coverage at the time characterized Coles as penitent, aware and thankful for the mercy Neville showed him. 

Tammy Rice, the Boise Human Resources Director at the time, received a harsher sentence from Judge Nevile, despite playing arguably a smaller role. She was the only woman implicated in the scandal with her two male coworkers and was the only one who went to jail in handcuffs. 

According to the Idaho Statesman at the time, Coles reported to jail within 30 days at his leisure.

Judge Neville pointed to the acts of repentance and acknowledgment of guilt as the reason for Coles receiving a lighter sentence then Rice.

This month, Coles formally filed to run for Boise Mayor. He will be on the ballot again when Boise citizens next vote on their chief executive officer.

The Secretary of State and county clerks do not have mug shots on their wall of people who can’t run for office. The official vetting of candidates is equivalent to the vetting of voters. 

“We confirm their voter registration and any other statutory requirements necessary to run for that office,” said Ada County Clerk Phil McGrane. “Often this is confirmed by the voter registration information.”

Neither McGrane, nor any other clerk, research the record of a candidate to find out if a judge, a governor, a president, or a spouse said they are unfit for office. 

“That’s not our job, that’s your job,” said several people who I talked to for this story. 

What a judge said to or about a politician has no bearing on an election in Idaho if the voter registration does not concur. 

Here is a possible reason why Mayor H. Brent Coles gets to ignore what 4th District Judge Thomas Neville told him: Sixteen days after the order the state changed the order. 

The reason for the change appears to be that Judge Neville overreached his jurisdiction. 

“The Court cannot enforce a condition beyond the time that it has jurisdiction,” said Tara Malek, owner of the Idaho law firm Smith + Malek. “Here, the court retained jurisdiction over Mr. Cole for three years.”  

“Indefinitely and permanently”  is longer than three years.

“As a result of completing the terms,” said Idaho’s former U.S. Attorney Wendy Olson, “my view is that the condition of not running for office is no longer binding, if it ever was.”

So that means Coles is legally allowed to run for office. It was not within Judge Neville’s power to stop him. The moral and ethical questions, however, are left to the voters.

“(Coles) so abused his position of power that a court felt compelled to prevent him from holding public office.” said Malek. “To me, it says this person was a danger to the public.”

We all deserve a second chance and 16 years is a long time. As Coles steps back into public life, it might be useful for voters to remember what he said when he left it. 

“I was elected by the citizens of this community to do the right thing every day with every dollar and with every penny — every ounce of trust they gave to me,” Coles said. “I broke that trust, and I know it, and I accept that responsibility. I blame no one else but myself.”



The Commission of Pardons and Parole needs clemency

By Seth Ogilvie, Idaho Reports

The Idaho Commission of Pardons and Parole has been consistently breaking the rules for decades. “That’s the way it has been done for as long as the staff can remember,” said Ashley Dowell, the commission’s executive director.


Executive Director Ashley Dowell

The rules in question are not complicated. “The decision and supporting documents regarding a commutation will be filed with the Secretary of State,” reads the Idaho statute on clemency hearings. It’s equally straightforward on pardons. “The decision and supporting documents regarding the decision to grant or deny a pardon will be filed with the Secretary of State.”

The Secretary of State’s office is the body tasked with making the decisions and documents available to the public. “As a public agency, transparency is paramount,” said Parole Commissioner Lisa Growette Bostaph in an email to Idaho Reports. “Those processes provide necessary transparency about our decision-making as commissioners.”


Commissioner Lisa Growette Bostaph

The commission has only been turning over documents related to pardons and commutations they approved, and not always promptly. In response to an inquiry last week, Dowell told Idaho Reports, “We determined that there had been a historical agreement between the Commission of Pardons and Parole staff and the Secretary of State’s staff.”

The agreement was to not turnover documentation for pardons and commutation hearings when they decided to deny a pardon or clemency.

Lisa Mason, the person currently responsible for these documents in the office of the Secretary of State, was unaware of this agreement when talking to Idaho Reports earlier this month.

Former Secretary of State Ben Ysursa told Idaho Reports “I can’t remember any such agreement.”

“We never entered into an agreement,” said Miren Artiach, the former deputy secretary of state responsible for these documents. “We never would have entered into an agreement contrary to the rules.”

Dowell says the commission has maintained records that have not been turned over to the Secretary of State at the commission office. “Generally, those records are retained for ten years, but it varies,” said Dowell.

The commission’s problem with handing over materials, however, dates back far longer.

“I worked with them for 40 years,” said Artiach. “There was always a problem with getting those documents.”

That means 30 years of Idaho pardon and commutation decisions and records may be gone.

Dowell is new to her director position. “Executive Director Sandy Jones began the process of making the commission actually transparent: bringing the backlog of minutes up to date, instituting audio recording of all hearings, shepherding in the use of decision guidelines by commissioners, explicitly and consistently stating reasons for grants and/or denials in decisions, and expanding contact with victims,” said Bostaph. “Executive Director Dowell has begun to further those initiatives in her short time, thus far, by ensuring compliance with the open meeting law.”

Many of these practices in question came from Olivia Craven, a previous director. Both Ysursa and Artiach expressed frustration with their interactions with Craven regarding pardons and commutations.

“Even when we did receive the correct documents there was usually a significant lag time,” said Artiach. “On one occasion the commission was several years behind schedule before eventually dumping three years of documents in our office.”


Former Secretary of State Ben Ysursa

The Secretary of State contacted the governor about the difficulty they were having acquiring these records. “We had a come to Jesus moment with Olivia Craven about record keeping,” said Ysursa. “We thought it was unconscionable not to have the gold certificate for someone who went through this process.”

On at least one occasion, the Secretary of State received documents only signed by Director Carven rather than the commissioners, according to Artiach.

The Secretary of State has no authority to compel the commission staff to turn over the documents; neither do the actual Pardon and Parole commissioners. The governor appoints the Director. Commissioners and the Secretary of State have no input on the Director position or their staff unless the governor inquires.

When people were unable to find documents or discovered the problem existed, “they often used our office as an excuse when we had never received the documents, to begin with,” said Artiach.

Dowell is not passing the blame to the Secretary of State. “Upon reviewing that practice, the commission will be working with the Secretary of State to provide all documents related to pardons, commutations, and restoration of firearms to the Secretary of State,” said Dowell.

“We do not oversee processing and business operations or the Executive Director,” said Bostaph. “If the commission office is not in compliance with an administrative rule, they need to change that.”

“We will be in compliance moving forward,” said Dowell. “I can’t comment on whether we were in compliance before.”


Renewing urban renewal

By Seth Ogilvie, Idaho Reports

The Idaho tax commission recognizes 86 urban renewal districts in Idaho. House bill 217 will significantly change how they operate.


The bill has been characterized by many as an attack on the Boise library and stadium projects, but the other 86 districts will have to follow the same rules.

The significant change coming to urban renewal in Idaho is how much money is required to force a vote. A vote, after Governor Brad Little signed the bill, would now be necessary if 51% of the money used on a project was urban renewal money or “any other public funds, not including federal funds or federal funds administered by a public body.” The project would also have to exceed one million dollars.

The election would work much like a school bond election, but unlike a school bond election that requires 2/3rds of the voters to pass, these elections would require only 60% of people to approve the project.

Proponents of the bill argue this will create more civic engagement and accountability within the system. They say people who live within the urban renewal district would have greater control over how their tax dollars are spent.

Senator Maryanne Jordan thinks the bill will have unintended consequences because the law does not distinguish between urban renewal money and other public funds.

Sen. Jordan laid out this example; “a city saves $2,000,000 to remodel their City Hall. The urban renewal district contributes $30,000 to a public plaza outside the building. A plaza is not an exception under the statute, so the whole project is forced to a vote.”

The project would then have to be delayed until the next scheduled election, or a special election would have to be called. “The special election will cost more than the urban renewal contribution,” said Sen. Jordan, “for what amounts to 1.5% of the project.”

The election could also have an unintended impact on contractor availability and costs. Developing construction bids for city projects that are still uncertain may be unappealing to contractors, driving up prices or leaving cities without options for building their projects.

Over the next few months, local government officials across the state will likely meet with lawyers and experts to find out if any of these unintended consequences will come to their town.


What we know now

By Seth Ogilvie, Idaho Reports

The quote of this year’s legislative session, uttered in so many variations that it would be unfair to attribute it to one individual, was that “the people did not know what they voted for in November.”

As the session nears an end, it might be the time to entertain the idea that these legislators and lobbyists are right.

Rep. Megan Blanksma and the rest of legislative leadership promised a session with better communications and transparency. Instead, the legislature has delivered last-minute, almost secret meetings, they banned the people from photographing how their elected officials voted on critical amendments, and continued ahead with vastly unpopular legislation despite hoards of people testifying to the contrary.

Gov. Brad Little also promised a new level of transparency and competency. As he entered the office, Idaho citizens expected a younger, bolder version of C.L. “Butch” Otter, an Otter 2.0, the newer version with all the latest bells and whistles.

1 (5 of 4)

This legislative session points to us having received an Otter Beta. In the state of the state, Little rolled out only one novel idea, the homeowner’s savings account. That idea currently sits in a drawer with little chance of going anywhere.

Otter could have given the rest of Little’s State of the State speech last year, and in fact, many of the ideas turned into law Otter had put in previous speeches. Teacher raises had been a core principle of Otter’s taskforce; the third-grade literacy initiative was one of Otter’s main talking points for years. If the governor’s office sat empty this year, it’s hard to imagine the legislative session going much differently.

Little did appoint new staff, and they are happy to tell you they have several new people in new positions, but a majority of the people in the high profile positions are Otter department heads and staffers who were merely moved to a new role. The titles are different, but the people are the same. The Otter team is still intact, just in slightly different positions.

That leaves the one significant change: Little’s use of the veto. Otter did have a few high profile hiccups, and it appears Little wanted in on the action.

Little vetoed the ballot initiative bill on Friday. In that veto, he made several claims, the first being that “the bills invite legal challenges that likely will result in the Idaho initiative process being determined by the liberal Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals.”

The veto also cited “the same Circuit that recently decided Idaho should pay for gender reassignment surgery for a transgender inmate serving time for molesting a child.”

Idaho Reports asked the governor’s office why the veto connected transgendered people to child molestation, and if Little believes that transgendered people and child molestation is related.

In a statement to Idaho Reports, the governor’s office said they didn’t want to expand on the veto “further than what is stated in his transmittal letter to the Legislature.”

At the beginning of the legislative session, Little told the press he would be incredibly open and transparent. Apparently just not on the most significant decisions he makes.

That leaves the people of Idaho not knowing if the governor thinks transgender people have a propensity for child molestation or what the topic has to do with a ballot initiative.

On Tuesday, Little signed into law the Medicaid sideboards bill. Signing the bill apparently was a surprise to whoever posts news on the governor’s official website. The website initially referred to the transmittal statement as a  “veto letter.” The letter was also published with large chunks missing. The mistakes were corrected soon after, but not before members of the public and press corps noticed. A call to Little’s office hadn’t been returned by the end of the day.

Even when Otter turned in his late veto, he turned in the complete statement and knew he was vetoing the bill rather than signing it.

This year is also the first in years that Idaho Reports didn’t have an interview with the governor during the legislative session. That isn’t for lack of trying. Idaho Reports had an interview scheduled with Little for Feb. 27th, but that week, Little’s office canceled, citing scheduling conflicts. Little’s office declined to reschedule, offering instead an interview after the session.

As we reach the end of the legislative session and entertain the question of whether people knew what they were voting for, it would probably be a good idea to ask if the legislature has been transparent and responsive to the people. Has the governor’s office been fresh, open, competent and laid out a bold new agenda? Then discuss whether people were informed when they voted.


Who watches the watchers?

By Devon Downey

Freshman Senator C. Scott Grow has become the center of Idaho politics this year because of his initiative bill, S1159. Proponents argue it gives rural Idahoans more say while also modernizing the process. Opponents call it unconstitutional and punitive. Governor Little said in his veto letter that “the bills invite legal challenges that likely will result in the Idaho initiative process being determined by the liberal Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals”.

S1159 would’ve reduced the time petitioners have to gather signatures by two-thirds. It would’ve increased the percentage of registered voters needed in each district from 6%-10%. It would’ve also increased the number of districts required from 18-32, among other changes.

The bill saw a strong public backlash. The House tried to address the criticism and introduced a trailer bill, H296.  It took the house two days to craft, debate and, pass the legislation. H296 would’ve made it so that the time reduction is only half (270 days as opposed to 18 months) and made it so that instead of 32 districts being needed to sign on, 24 districts would’ve been required.

Together, the changes would’ve reduced the time allowed to gather signatures by half, increase the signatures needed by nearly 67%, and require 6 more legislative districts to qualify for the ballot.

These bills drew bipartisan condemnation from across the state, with four former Attorneys General, the previous Secretary of State, and multiple newspaper editorial boards to request this bill be stopped before the Governor vetoed the bills.

So how did legislation as unpopular as these two bills make it to the governor’s desk? Partially because of Idaho lawmakers fears of outside money.

Senator Mary Souza argued that the bills were needed because “big money, whether it is from within the state or outside the state and very professional management groups are being used to bring in high technology… to pinpoint votes all over the state.” When debating H296, Souza continued by quoting a LA Times article about a California labor union that invests in The Fairness Project (a political committee that spent over $500,000 in both itemized and in-kind contributions to Idahoans for Healthcare in favor of Prop 2). “That [union] is simply one example of national groups that are targeting voter initiatives across the country as a way to advance their own agendas.”

These concerns cross political ideology, but with how much of the debate focused on outside money coming to the initiative process, we started looking at how this impacts other elections. Candidates also need to raise money for their own elections. Presumably, any concerns about influence from contributions by those outside of the area should also carry over to the legislators themselves. That means legislators should be just as concerned about money that is contributed from outside of the state or their districts as they are about outside money for initiatives.

Grow being at the center of the initiative bills means that he should be sensitive to these concerns, right?

Combing through the campaign finance data shows two things. First, that Grow didn’t gather the 50 signatures to qualify for the ballot but instead opted to pay the $30 fee to the Secretary of State. Second, it turns out that a majority of his money came from outside of his district.

Grow raised an astounding $114,000 for his 2018 campaign. For context, that was more than the winning candidates for Secretary of State, Treasurer, Superintendent of Public Instruction, Controller, and Attorney General raised.

Of that $114,000, $102,525 were itemized contributions to his campaign; the rest were either in-kind donations or below the reporting threshold. 61% of his itemized contributions came from outside his district. If that number sounds familiar, it is because 61% is roughly the same percent that Proposition 2 passed with statewide. Just over 55% of all of his contributions came from outside of District 14.


While this is a large amount of money for a legislative race, it should be noted that one of his primary opponents raised over $80,000 and another over $30,000. District 14’s Republican Primary for the state senate was highly competitive, with five candidates receiving more than 10% of the vote. Grow won the primary receiving only 35.2% of the primary vote.

Grow’s main argument for his bill was that rural Idahoans deserve to be a part of the process, but it is hard to classify his own district as rural. District 14 has the largest number of voters, and because of the growth of the Treasure Valley, has seen many new residents since the last time districts were drawn.

The totals in District 14 also implies that his district likes having the initiatives. Both propositions passed in District 14, and over 98% of ballots cast in the district voted on the propositions.

Rep. Heather Scott noted in her floor debate against the initiative bills that Idaho’s demographics are changing, and that seeing the writing on the walls is not a good enough reason to change constitutional protections. She also expressed her disappointment that her constituents and their policy ideas are rarely taken up by either chamber of the legislature.

As supporters of Proposition 2 noted, having frequent ballot initiatives like California can be problematic. Reclaim Idaho founder Luke Mayville told the state affairs committee that it should be hard to get an initiative to qualify for the ballot so that doesn’t happen.

Money and influence in politics are universally panned, but as the Supreme Court has clarified, political spending and campaign contributions are considered protected speech under the First Amendment. While none of the money raised by either Proposition 2 or Senator Grow for their campaigns was illegal, concerns about out of district and out of state money are rampant.

For legislators who feel that there is undue influence on the ballot box by outside money, a better way to deal with the problem directly may be to tighten up the campaign finance rules.


An email, a Senator and a bathroom

By Seth Ogilvie, Idaho Reports

Police reports involving a key Idaho lawmaker and a Boise high school bathroom started circulating the Statehouse last week.

The police reports, obtained by Idaho Reports, appears to have been scanned on March 10 and circulated by an anonymous, secure email account mimicking state Sen. Fred Martin, a Republican from Boise who has been at the center of several of this year’s most contentious legislative issues.

The email came from “fred.martin” <>. Proton mail is an encryption email service based out of Switzerland. The anonymous emailer asked the questions “Is he a pervert?  You decide. Did he use his position to cover it up? Sure seems that way.” Attached in the email were photos of the police reports.

“I feel like the email was a form of intimidation,” Martin told Idaho Reports on Saturday. “I took it as a threat.”

Idaho Reports has requested a copy of the reports from the Boise Police Department and also requested the names of all others who have obtained a copy of the documents. As of Saturday, Boise police have not yet responded. Boise police officials, however, have confirmed to legislators the reports are not a forgery. Martin himself confirmed they were not a forgery but said they were factually wrong.

Martin told Idaho reports “there is an active investigation into this email that has been turned over to the attorney general’s office.”

A spokesman for Attorney General Lawrence Wasden had “no comment” on whether or not an investigation exists.

Martin is the chairman of the Senate Health and Welfare committee and is the gatekeeper of multiple high-profile policy decisions from immunization exemptions to Medicaid expansion work requirements.

Martin has said he opposes restrictions on Medicaid expansion and will not allow a hearing on the immunization exemptions bill, which has already cleared the House earlier this year.

Martin says this email has only strengthened his stance on these issues. “The committee did not want to hear 133 (the immunization bill)” said Martin. “Now we never will.”

“This email is not related at all to Medicaid expansion and will have no impact,” said Martin.

Some members of Democratic leadership see a possible correlation between the timing of this email and the positions Martin has taken.

“Anyone who is not toeing the line is at risk” said Senate Assistant Minority Leader Cherie Buckner-Webb, a Democrat from Boise.

“Martin exhibited suspicious behaviors during two known incidents on the property of Centennial H.S.,” the report reads of two incidents occurring in 2012 and 2014. “He had several inconsistent statements during an interview.”

However, the police concluded “at this point in the investigation, I have not identified any criminal activity that is prosecutable.”

The email was sent last week to multiple legislators in the Senate and the House seemingly at random. Idaho Reports has confirmed at least 10 House members and multiple senators received the email.

The documents attached in the email are titled “Scanned Documents 3.10.2019_page_01.jpg.” On March 8th, Miste Gardner-Karlfedt — a person active in Health Freedom Idaho — posted a clearly edited image on Facebook of Martin exiting a bathroom.

Screen Shot 2019-03-16 at 5.03.45 PM

Health Freedom Idaho has actively supported the immunization exemption bill. The group often posts about parental rights and the dangers of vaccinations.

Meanwhile, Dustin Hurst, communications director for the libertarian-leaning Idaho Freedom Foundation, responded: “Just wait until Tomorrow.”

Hurst told Idaho Reports on Saturday “that was a reference to our king Martin graphic.”

That king Martin graphic came out at 11:30 A.M on the same day as the bathroom photo was posted.

“I think the actions of Health Freedom Idaho hurt their cause,” Martin told Idaho Reports.

On a Health Freedom Idaho facebook post on Saturday the group denied being responsible for the email.  “Sen Martin is pointing the finger at HFI for releasing his police reports. While the contents of these reports are very concerning to many parents and Health Freedom Idaho members, we did not release these reports. It appears Mr. Martin is attempting to shift the public’s focus away from the contents of the police investigation, but Idaho citizens are too smart for this.”

The incidents in the report took place in 2012 and 2014. The first incident took place after a basketball game at Centennial High School in Boise. According to that report, Martin was wearing a long dress coat and had gloves on both hands when he entered the school by himself around 10:45 p.m.

Multiple custodians reported seeing Martin in the school at this time. One custodian who was cleaning bathrooms reported seeing Martin in the girls’ bathroom. The police report says “Martin was inside the women’s bathroom behind the wall with his back to the bathroom stalls and sinks.” The report continues “Martin was peering from behind the wall looking out the door into the hallway.”

“I was at the school after hours, but it wasn’t two in the morning, people were there,” Martin told Idaho Reports on Saturday. “I didn’t go into the bathroom, there was a cart, and I yelled into the bathroom because I was trying to talk to someone.”

The custodian “indicated he was startled because Martin was inside the women’s bathroom peering and had gloves on.” Martin appeared to be startled, according to the report, and left quickly without the two people exchanging any words. The custodian notified his supervisor after Martin allegedly left the building.

“No one followed me out,” said Martin on Saturday.

The report indicates that security footage from the school did not contradict the custodian’s memory of the incident. In the report, Martin denied ever entering the girls’ bathroom, but after being told, there was a witness “indicated he may have stepped out of the hallway into the little area at the entrance to the bathroom.” The report continues to say “Martin then made a statement about defining when the bathroom begins and when it ends.”

In the report, Martin said he was at the school to find out who had won the girls basketball game and his actions were entirely innocent. The report, however, says “Martin indicated that he saw several kids in the gym, but for some reason, he did not ask the kids who won the game.”

On Saturday, Martin told Idaho Reports he was attempting to find out the score of his grand-niece’s basketball game. Martin talked to Idaho Reports while attending a volleyball game in the Magic Valley.

When Martin was asked by investigators what he thought he was being accused of  “he stated he did not want to say it out loud or write it down,” says the report. “Martin then made several statements about knowing who he was and living a kind of life. Martin later stated he thought the accusation, because of the investigations, were centered on something to the effect of a peeping Tom.”

“Nothing in that report is true outside of me being at the school,” Martin told Idaho Reports.

Security cameras captured the second incident in 2014 outside the school. “Cameras showed a man who appeared to be Fred Martin pull up in a red Mustang,” says the report. “Martin first checked the two center main doors then checked the most eastern main door. Martin had negative results as all doors were locked. In the video, it shows Martin looking over his right shoulder as he was approaching the building as he was checking the doors. Martin walked back towards his vehicle where he was intercepted by a custodian who asked Martin if he needed help.”

Officers questioned Martin in his legislative office after the second incident. In those interviews, the report suggests Martin may have been receiving information about the investigation from sources within law enforcement “It appeared law enforcement was somehow involved in Martin obtaining information about the investigation on both occasions.”

Martin has never been arrested or tried for any of the actions in either report, and the investigators ultimately concluded no criminal activity that could be prosecuted was identified in the investigation.

“I will not be intimidated, I know who I am and those that know me, know who I am,” Martin told Idaho Reports Saturday. “Those who love me, know who I am.”

If you’d like to read the report here it is:

Scanned Documents 3.10.2019_Page_01


No good formula to create the Education funding formula

Wide view of the boise capital building

By Seth Ogilvie, Idaho Reports

Backroom fights and posturing over how to fund Idaho’s education system found their way to the House floor last week and continued Monday. House Democrats joined with more conservative members of the Idaho Legislature to vote down the State Board of Education’s budget to signal their unhappiness with the rewriting of the state’s most key budget item: funding Idaho’s schools.

“If you want to exclude us from policymaking, then don’t expect us to vote for your budgets,” said House Minority Leader Mat Erpelding. “That is not congruent.”

A key tension? Democrats feel left out of important policy discussions.

Sen. Janie Ward-Engelking, a Boise Democrat, says she’s been a member of the drafting team to create the legislation since its inception nearly five years ago. She says she hasn’t been invited to any actual drafting meetings since December. Yet people have been writing possible proposals without her.

Ward-Engelking says she and Democrat Rep. John McCrostie – a fellow funding formula member – “were not invited to the meetings where the draft was finalized.”

“They are more concerned with their power than good, well-reasoned policy,” said Erpelding. The Democrats are looking at killing appropriations bill as a way to force themselves back into the conversation

“To punch when necessary,” said Erpelding. “But only punch to win.”

The Senate education chairman disagrees. “I can tell you that there haven’t been any discussions being had behind closed doors,” said Sen. Dean Mortimer, who oversees the education panel. “They’ve been open, so anyone that wanted to participate or know what was going on was welcome.”

GOP Rep. Wendy Horman, who is in charge of writing the education budget, emphasized no one was purposely left out and she has taken a backseat.

The funding formula proposal was turned over to the House and Senate education committee in a joint hearing in December, said Horman, who then added she stepped away from the process after co-chairing the interim funding formula committee.

Senate and House education leaders have held almost 20 hours of meetings with stakeholders and legislators.  “If they’re saying we haven’t had any input,” said Mortimer. “I’m saying that’s not necessarily the fault of the of the environment that we’re we’re making this legislation in.”

“It wasn’t only Democrats who felt they were shut out of the funding formula drafting process,” Horman said. “Members of the House Education Committee have certainly spoken publicly about feeling excluded from the process.”

The Democrats and some of the House Education Committee members are not alone in raising concerns. Some of the stakeholders who attended the funding formula meetings also feel like they haven’t been heard.

There have been lengthy and productive public meetings, but the concern is that key conversations are happening in private.

“It’s a giant investment of time, and we’re the ones who have to implement it,” said Quinn Perry, lobbyist for the Idaho School Boards Association.

“The working group, in my opinion, has done what it needed to do,” said Mortimer. “That was talk about the major issues some of the differences of opinion and we covered all of that.”

Tensions have since been heightened when the House Education Committee started talking about a bill – which may or may not have actually existed – stakeholders say they knew nothing about.

Around the same time, that same panel also raised eyebrows from stakeholders and Democrats when it started drafting funding formula legislation of its own.

Legislative leadership directed Horman and Republican Sen. Lori Den Hartog to also draft their own funding formula version.

“It must have become clear to both House and Senate leadership this week that the process wasn’t working, and the Senate Education Chairman was directed by joint leadership to work on a draft on Wednesday evening,” said Den Hartog.” “I have assisted the Chairman with that.”

“Leadership agreed it was time to get a bill moving that honored the intent of the interim committee and incorporated stakeholder input,” said Horman. “(Den Hartog) and I got tasked with taking the interim committee’s version adding the stakeholder input and coming up with a draft.”

That was when Democrats and stakeholders started to object. “I said, what are you doing you’re going to blow the whole thing up, we cannot put something forward that doesn’t have stakeholder buy-in,” said Ward-Engelking. “It’s just not the right thing to do.”

“We’ve seen in the past what happens when stakeholders are not involved,” said Perry. “They’re not going to be calling legislators they’re going to be calling us.”

Critics of the process harken back to the Luna Law days, where in 2011 stakeholders also argued they were left out of important education policy decisions and eventually overturned the Legislature’s decisions through citizen initiatives.

“I think we’ll see a very similar situation that we saw with the Luna laws where people are going to say this isn’t right. You know you’re not talking to the people that are in the field, the people that are doing the day to day work with children and that’s whom people care about, we care about the children of Idaho,” said Ward-Engelking.

“My fear, if we don’t involve the stakeholders, is that it becomes a very political bill and we’re not looking out for the interests of our children here in Idaho,” she added.

A new funding formula, however, can only be created by the Legislature and the process is not even close to a conclusion. “It’s time now to let the legislative process happen,” said Mortimer. “Time for a bill to be brought, time for us to say yes this is what we want to do and not everyone may agree but if the majority agrees then that’s the way the legislative process works.”

People are still holding out hope despite the criticism and obstacles. “I believe a compromise could be reached on this,” said Horman. “I think we can get to a bill that takes into consideration the recommendations of the interim committee as modified by additional stakeholder input and we can get a compromise bill done this year.”

“I think we need to go back to the bill that the stakeholders have endorsed,” said Ward-Engelking. “That’s where we need to start and vote it up or down, and if they vote it down, we put this off and see what the governor’s task force can do to resolve this situation.”

Mortimer does not believe waiting until next year is an option. “It is not acceptable to me, and I don’t think it’s acceptable to a lot of people,” said Mortimer. “We’ve already worked on it three years… it needs to happen, and it’s our responsibility to educate those that haven’t been here so long. I think if we miss the opportunity to at least get the framework in place, then we miss a real opportunity.”

Even the stakeholders still have hope. “We are committed to continuing our work with the Legislature to craft language that will work for everyone,” said Perry  “We will also continue our efforts to ensure the transition to a student-based formula will be as smooth as possible for our school districts and charter schools.”

In the end, though, hope doesn’t craft legislation. With a bill introduced and the killed in the House Education Committee today and a possible future bill in the Senate this week, we’ll have to wait and see what lawmakers, stakeholders and the people of Idaho can get behind.

Then keep an eye on Sen. C. Scott Grow’s ballot initiative bill, just in case this does end up like the Luna laws.



The Presidential primary was not on Denney’s radar

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By Seth Ogilvie, Idaho Reports

The Secretary of State and the Governor’s budget recommendation to the legislature forgot about the Idaho presidential primary.

“It just slipped through the cracks because it wasn’t really on our radar,” said Secretary of State Lawerence Denney. “We didn’t even think about it.”

The Idaho presidential primary cost taxpayers $1.9 million in 2016. The budget recommendations from the Secretary of State and the Governor had zero dollars allocated to the election.

Early in the legislative session, Rep. Paul Amador discovered there was no money for the primary. “I was talking to the analyst,” said Amador. “Where are we going to get the money this year? Is it in the budget? And she looked and said ‘no, it’s not in there.’”

The members of the Joint Finance-Appropriations Committee (JFAC) were caught off guard. “Budget writers usually don’t like surprises, especially when they increase the budget,” said Amador. “We always like surprises when they lower it.”

The legislative services analyst then informed the Secretary of State. “They called Tim [Hurst] and said you guys left out a big chunk of money,” said Denney. Hurst is the Chief Deputy Secretary of State.


“A lot of people have known about this and it hasn’t been a hush hush secret among JFAC members by any means,” said Amador. “We’re just finally getting to the Secretary of State’s budget today.”

JFAC is currently setting the 2020 budget, which is the year the presidential primary will take place. “The counties are not going to want to run the election unless there’s some money to pay them back,” said Denney.

That forced JFAC’s hand to find the money somewhere. “It’s just an extra two million dollars from the general fund appropriation,” said Amador. “So it’ll just come off the bottom line.”

In 2015 the legislature changed the way primaries work in Idaho. It moved the presidential primary to a set date in March and required the state to pay for it. The cost of the presidential primary was not included in the Secretary of State’s budget that year.

The presidential primary was funded in the bill that changed how the primary was administered, not in the Secretary of State’s budget.

“It wasn’t on our radar because last time around it was appropriated in the bill that created the presidential primary,” said Denney, “so it wasn’t in our regular schedule thing.”

This year, the Democratic Party has chosen to participate in the primary, but Denney doesn’t anticipate that changing the overall cost. “It will be the same. It may up the cost a little bit if there’s twenty five candidates and we have to print another page, but I think there’s enough to cover it and if it doesn’t it’ll come close.”

Today the primary was funded by JFAC and will go to the House and Senate for approval. “It wasn’t in the ‘you need to do this every four year line,’” said Denney. “But I can tell you it will be next time.”


Idaho Supreme Court rules on defamation by implication case


By Melissa Davlin, Idaho Reports 

The Idaho Supreme Court has ruled in favor of USA Today and KTVB in the defamation case concerning a former teacher. The opinion, released Monday, also defines defamation by inference, clarifying the standards for future potential lawsuits against media outlets and allowing a challenge against an Oregon television station to move forward. Read Monday’s opinion here. 

The case centered around former Idaho teacher James Verity, and reporting done by the USA Today network on a sexual relationship he had with an 18-year-old student at a previous job in Oregon. A lawsuit filed by Verity and his wife named USA Today, KGW, and KTVB as defendants. Read more here.

At the heart of the issue is “defamation by inference” — essentially, whether media outlets can be sued for reporting that isn’t inaccurate, but may imply defamatory information.

In this case, Verity argued that some reporting done on his relationship with the student implied that the student was a minor — not because the reporting outright said so, but because readers and viewers might think she was.

Both KTVB and USA Today said the student was 18, and focused the reporting on state reporting systems and national databases. KGW, however, did not mention the student’s age.

The opinion says to prove defamation by implication, a plaintiff must make a “rigorous showing” that a report must “reasonably understood to impart the false innuendo,” and that the author “intends or endorses the inference.” In other words, context matters, and so does intent.

The court ruled KTVB and USA Today didn’t hit those standards, ordering counts against KTVB and USA Today be dismissed.

The court, however, did affirm the district court’s conclusion that “a reasonable jury could find that KGW impliedly defamed Verity about having a sexual relationship with a minor.”

“Sometimes a communication will not be defamatory on its face, constituting express
defamation, but through context, omission, or other rhetorical devices, a defamatory implication might arise,” the opinion says.

In addition to intent and context, the subject of the reporting also matters, the court ruled. Reporting on a private individual such as Verity is different than reporting on a public figure with access to communication channels, according to the opinion — even if that private individual is a government employee, as was Verity.

“Verity lacked access to a bully pulpit and the USA Today article was published nationally, so any influence Verity could have had to defend his reputation as a public schoolteacher would be minuscule,” the opinion says.

The Supreme Court remanded the case back to district court.

(Full disclosure: The Idaho Press Club joined in an amicus brief in support of USA Today and KTVB. I serve as vice president of the Idaho Press Club and was involved in those discussions.)

Seth Ogilvie contributed to this report.


Overworked and underpaid

prison2By Seth Ogilvie, Idaho Reports

Last year the Idaho Department of Correction paid out approximately $5 million for almost 300,000 hours of overtime. The department averaged a worker shortage of 87 people throughout the year, with spikes in the summer when construction jobs have a tendency of luring away correction workers.

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“There’s certainly an element of exhaustion and being tired and added stress,” said Josh Tewalt, Director of the Idaho Department of Correction. “The secondary piece is just how tough it can be on families. They’re the ones that also have to bear that burden when they don’t know when Mom or Dad is gonna be able to come home.”

Excessive overtime has an emotional price tag. “There are enough stressors inherent to working in a correctional facility,” said Tewalt. “You don’t need to add to it.”

1 (4 of 4)That emotional price tag can lead to attrition. “You have to think of it in the terms of tolerance threshold,” said Tewalt. “People will put up with only so much crap for this much money. When you get out there and you actually feel the impact it has on staff, it’s like, man, this isn’t something that can wait. We’ve got to get to work on this right now.”

Overtime creates a cycle that leads to more overtime. People get sick from working the extended hours. “They’re tired they’re exhausted and guess what happens,” said Tewalt. “You’re sick calls go up.”

People quit or find other employment because they don’t want to work 16-hour shifts in a dangerous environment. They can find a similar wage at Costco with less stress and more dependable hours.

“It’s not reasonable to expect that we’re ever going to have zero percent turnover because we are competing against other law enforcement and other entry-level jobs,” said Tewalt. “It is a very unique line of work and it takes a very unique person to see how rewarding that can be.”

The overtime also has a financial cost. Idaho Reports analyzed the average wages and benefits required to fill the 87 positions and compared it to the overtime costs accrued last year and found that the overtime cost was over $1.5 million more than filling all the vacant positions.

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The chart shows a spike in November. That is partially because of an extra pay period in June and November. All other months have two pay periods, November and June have three.

The staffing problems also dictate how the Department of Correction deals with issues like out of state prisons. Entering this year’s legislative session a proposal was discussed to build another Idaho detention facility. The proposed facility would allow Idaho prisoners currently housed in two private prisons in Texas to come home. If those prisoners came home, they would be able to more easily meet with family members during visitor hours, creating a link to the community they will eventually reenter. Strong family and positive relationships within the community are a strong indicator of recidivism and successful outcomes after incarceration.

With the staffing crisis currently happening in Idaho, the possibility of finding hundreds of more workers to staff a new prison seems unlikely, leaving the two Texas prisons as seemingly the only short-term option.

Tewalt and Gov. Brad Little have some ideas about how to solve the problem. Filling those positions will take some changes. One of those changes is money. “It’s really hard here in the valley with what the prison over in Ontario Oregon pays,” said Little.

1 (5 of 4)“We’ll never be able to afford to pay them what I think they’re worth,” said Tewalt. “But we’ve got to be able to give them enough that they can afford to stay doing something that they love.”

The other portion is creating a scheduling and work environment that works for the correction employees. Arranging schedules to fit the needs of the institutions, the workers and the incarcerated could not only effect worker retention, but could have a positive effect on outcomes.

“We talk about needing improved outcomes in the community,” said Tewalt. “We talk about needing to have people coming out of prison in a better position to be successful in the community. We won’t do any of that unless we shore up our workforce.”

Providing education and training for inmates to help them be successful when they reenter communities is impossible without people to teach them and facilitate the programs they need.

The director’s solution is two-fold: Better wages and better personnel management. “If we hit both of them hard, if we’re able to affect the amount of money that’s going in their pockets, and we’re able to affect their satisfaction with the work they do, then these numbers will improve,” said Tewalt.

This isn’t just about correction workers and inmates. The vast majority of people incarcerated in Idaho will eventually become your neighbor, your coworker or possibly just a stranger walking down your street. The time spent in a correctional facility has a huge impact on how the incarcerated act when they receive their liberty back and rejoin the Idaho community.

“Our number one obligation is to keep Idahoans safe and that includes our employees,” said Little. “There is a problem and I think that Director Tewalt is doing a good job.”

The job, however, will not be completed overnight, and if this two-part plan doesn’t work or isn’t supported, the next options could be even more costly and more difficult.