Idaho politics: Incompetence continued

by Judy Ferro

I’m sure many Idaho civil servants do their best every day to make government services function and to make our state a better place.  I know many legislators, school board members, and city and county commissioners work for the common good and take pride in their accomplishments.

Still, there are enough muckups out there to suggest a serious shortage of competent leadership.  (In less politically correct terms: we’ve got some corrupt and/or stupid management.)

The latest news about the Idaho Transportation Department is a good example.

Last November the ITD failed to have an asbestos survey done before it demolished a state building in Priest River.  The building, according to the Spokesman Review, was in the center of town and less than a block from a junior high school.  Citizens complained to the Environmental Protection Agency, which found the debris included materials containing “up to 55 percent asbestos.”

Now dozens of workmen and parents are worrying and watching for symptoms of asbestos-caused illnesses.   And Idaho taxpayers are paying a $52,000 fine.

But mistakes happen, right?  Building demolition may not be the Transportation Department’s forte’.

But this wasn’t the first time.  Just a year ago the ITD was fined $57,000 for improperly demolishing an asbestos-laden building in Rigby.

So someone in the department knowingly exposed workmen, citizens and young children to airborne asbestos.  (Asbestos in sealed areas is not a serious risk until disturbed.)

It brings new perspective to the Canyon County Commissioners’ failure to ask why special funds were special; at least they didn’t hurt anyone.

And the state’s broadband fiasco has mainly damaged taxpayers’ pockets.  Some officials didn’t recognize a problem with long-term contracts even though technology has been getting faster and cheaper for 30 years.  And someone assumed the Feds wouldn’t mind the state’s illegal omission of the lowest qualified bidder.   And someone did authorize renewing the contract early even though the Feds had stopped paying.

So the state is being sued for services provided but a court has ruled we can’t legally pay—and our share of the legal bills is pressing the million dollar mark.

Still, no one has been physically or emotionally hurt.  That’s not true of all the emerging problems.

An 11th John Doe has come forth with an account of sexual abuse at the juvenile detention facility in Nampa.  The failure of leadership and oversight in that facility has been tragic for too many at-risk kids.

And a U.S. District Court judge is investigating possible deception by Idaho prison officials.  In 2011 and 2012 the court sent an examiner to the Idaho State Correctional Institution.  Now, inmates, supported by former employees, claim that prison officials purposely deceived the examiner by tampering with medical records, hiding problem inmates, and concealing use of “dry cells.”

Judge David Carter was particularly interested in the “dry cells”—rooms without sinks, mattresses, or any toilet except for a grate in the floor.  Apparently, when the examiner wasn’t around, prisoners were sometimes housed there for a week or longer.

Colleen Zahn, an Idaho deputy attorney general, dismissed the testimony of former corrections employees as colored by a dislike for their former boss.

In other words, there was a breakdown in leadership.  Employees walked away from good-paying jobs with more complaints about the administration’s conduct than the inmates’?

Is all this happening on the Republicans’ watch?   Yes.

Could we have the same problems if Democrats were in charge?  Possibly.

                In a viable two-party system people who are in-the-know can cry foul when they see a problem without losing all their allies. Idaho might try that again.

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