A Series of Costly Decisions

Since early 2013, the Board of Ada County Commissioners has made a frightening number of bad and costly decisions, supposedly on behalf of the county’s taxpayers.

FIRST, the day after I left office in January of 2013, Commissioners Dave Case and Jim Tibbs, in a two-to-one decision, fired Rich Wright. Rich was the Director of the Department of Administration and he did a terrific job for the county!

Rich Wright filed a lawsuit and a jury unanimously found Commissioners Case and Tibbs guilty of wrongfully terminating this county whistleblower’s employment. Why had these two fired Rich? Because he had ordered an internal investigation into numerous harassment complaints against another county employee who happens to be a crony of Case and Tibbs. Rich was fired for doing his job, trying to protect county employees, and trying to maintain a harassment-free workplace.

Rich won not only $1.7 million for his illegal whistleblower termination, but more than $660,000 in attorney fees. In addition, the case cost taxpayers another $325,000 in outside attorney fees since the Ada County Prosecuting Attorney’s Civil Division refused to represent Case and Tibbs.

SECOND, the Board canceled the contract with Dynamis to build a waste-to-energy facility at the county’s landfill and walked away from the county’s $2 million investment. This project would have been the answer to the shrinking recyclables market.

I understand that some people were opposed to the Dynamis project, but even they should be asking why Commissioners Case and Tibbs walked away from the county’s $2 million investment, since that money was fully refundable under the terms of the contract.

THIRD, the county was sued by Fortistar, the company that burns landfill gas and converts it to electric power. Fortistar claimed that the Dynamis project would divert too much trash and Fortistar would not have enough landfill gas for their two existing and two proposed engines.

Even Fortistar’s own graph showed there was more than enough landfill gas through the terms of all of the contracts involved.

In addition, a study by CH2M Hill showed there would be adequate landfill gas to meet all of Fortistar’s needs through the life of their contracts even with the Dynamis project up and running at full capacity.

Why then, did Commissioners Case and Tibbs PAY Fortistar $2.6 million to settle the lawsuit, when it had no merit and there was clearly no legal cause of action?

FOURTH, the Board of Ada County Commissioners decided to withdraw from the Idaho Association of Counties. They ostensibly saved about $44,000 on dues by so doing, but then turned around and spent $40,000 of that savings on a lobbyist to represent the county’s interests in the Idaho legislature.

If you have ever heard the term, “The Great State of Ada” and wondered why we have that reputation, perhaps now you understand. A paid lobbyist representing only Ada County’s interests will have little success in the Idaho legislature, given that only eight of the state’s 35 legislative districts are in Ada County.

In addition, the other Ada County elected officials, in order to participate in their statewide associations, were reasonably required to pay their 1/9 share of the county’s annual membership fee anyway.

Before getting involved in the Idaho Association of Counties myself, I, too, had questioned its value to the taxpayers of our Ada County. Once I was involved, however, and participated in the organization myself, I quickly realized the enormous value this resource provided.

The body of knowledge of the IAC staff, as well as that of the elected officials from the state’s other 43 counties, was breathtaking and extremely valuable. To recognize that fact, however, one must get off one’s high horse and actually interact with some of the many amazing local elected officials involved.

FIFTH, in continuing their antagonistic approach toward the Idaho Association of Counties, the Board of Ada County Commissioners voted to withdraw from the Capital Crimes Defense Fund. This fund is managed by IAC.

Betsy Z. Russell wrote an informative article for the Spokesman-Review about the situation, available here: Ada County’s rift with association almost costs Boise-area taxpayers big bucks

According to Betsy’s report, a few days after the Board decided to withdraw from the fund, the commissioners learned Ada County would have to take on the 167 cases that were being handled for the county by the State Appellate Public Defender’s office. Over the past year, the county has received nearly $700,000 worth of services because of our participation in the fund. Although Ada County pays into this fund, it does so at a rate significantly lower than the cost of the services we receive.

This blunder by the Board could easily have been prevented. Thankfully, the Board of Ada County Commissioners did rethink their decision and voted to undo the damage, but wouldn’t it be better to know the facts and ask the relevant questions before tumbling headlong into another impulsive costly decision?

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