Monday, October 5, 2009

Does this seem right? Couple steals $4.3 million from schools--Wife ends up with one felony conviction, husband gets one MISDEMEANOR

The complexities of law are definitely not my area of expertise, but to me, a recent settlement seems to fall somewhat short of justice being served. John and Susan Ross, in a premeditated and devious scheme, purposely took advantage of their positions and lax safeguards on spending approvals, laundering approximately $4.3 million through a fake company over 5 years, besides committing serious copyright fraud. That money came from federal Title I funds, funds meant to help the poorest, most disadvantaged students.

John Ross was convicted of one misdemeanor charge "because "he was not employed in the same capacity" as his wife and has serious health concerns." He seems just as cognizant and culpable as his wife, an employee of the district who directed Title I funds, who was convicted of one felony Money Laundering charge. Prosecutors will recommend she serve 27 months in prison of a possible 10 years for the charge. John also worked for the district and was in on the scheme from the beginning, besides previously working as the Title I specialist at the State Office of Education, which surely aided the couple's plan greatly in terms of knowledge of the system and how to fool it. John also admitted that "In addition to placing fraudulent copyrights on books, [he] made payments to printers and picked up and delivered the books, according to his signed plea agreement."

The two of them plead guilty to 2 of a total 47 charges originally filed against them and will pay back "$786,000 in cash, as well as homes in Layton, South Weber and Mountain Green, and at least two cars." What does that total? 1.5 million dollars maybe if the houses are more than $200,000 each? An earlier article reveals the cars will not garner extravagant revenue.

This lady stole $100 from the Utah Highway Patrol last year. She plead guilty to one felony which was reduced to a misdemeanor, got 30 days of home confinement, was required to do 150 community service hours, paid a fine of 5 and 1/2 times what she stole, and further reimbursed the court for the cost of the criminal investigation.

The Rosses stole 43,000 times more money from a more vulnerable group while abusing the public trust in their positions of leadership, and will pay back less than half of what they stole, let alone the cost of a 3 year investigation and plea bargain process. I also don't see any home confinement time for John Ross for a more serious misdemeanor charge or any community service for either of them.

It seems they were eventually caught red-handed. Is there a problem with the evidence? Does the cost of a trial--after literally years of state lawyers' time being spent on plea negotiations--not justify throwing the book at them? I just don't get this one.

I have more to say on the ethics initiative, but it's more involved and I haven't had the time yet.


Friday, October 2, 2009

Another technology integration issue: Howard Stephenson waxes wrathful and wastes tax payer dollars on “textbook reviews” that he doesn’t understand

Robert Gehrke broke this story almost a year ago and I’ve been meaning to comment ever since. I posted a bunch of articles on the subject separately. I highly recommend you read them all, but especially the first one listed: the Nov. 29, 2008 article by Robert Gehrke titled “Did Utah Senator’s Advocacy Go Too Far?”

The quotes listed are all from that same Gehrke article. The article triggered a 2-hour radio response from Senator Stephenson titled, "Stupid in Utah: How the Utah State Office of Education hurts kids and teachers."

Howard Stephenson and a legislative committee chose certain private companies in 2003 to support by awarding them state contracts and funds. Olene Walker vetoed the bill because it was inappropriate for the legislature to favor certain vendors, a position which Stephenson later agreed was correct when interviewed by Gehrke last year.

One of those favored companies was “ProCert Labs, which is seeking to review Utah's textbooks, pinpointing where concepts in the state's core curriculum are taught to help instructors teach the required lessons. The work could be worth millions.” Their funding got vetoed in 2003, but in 2007 Stephenson supported a bill mandating that private “textbook reviews.” I listened to the Red Meat Radio show on 12-06-08 when Stephenson defended his actions and interviewed the owner of ProCert, Paul Hoffman. Hoffman and Stephenson talked about how hard it was to know what was in a textbook, how time-consuming for teachers to figure it out, and how inefficient and pointless the current teacher review process was compared to the “21st Century” methods of ProCert using computers. Using my professional judgment, I will call BS on those claims. It boggles my mind how far Stephenson will go to waste money on anything deemed “21st Century” in education, even if he obviously has zero idea about the reality of the situation. In this particular case, a large amount of money is being directed to private companies to add repetitive detail to a process that can be done by willing teachers in one day for the cost of a substitute.

The state core curriculum standards are mandated topics to be taught in certain subjects each year. There is some educationese in parts of the text, but most people can easily understand the statements of what is to be taught. The current textbook vetting process on the state level is merely an initial screening to ensure that the textbooks cover the core curriculum and to give a brief impression of usability. The books that do not cover the required concepts will not be approved for districts to purchase; the others will be placed on an approved list along with the small blurb written by the reviewing teachers. The teachers who participate in secondary textbook reviews are volunteers who go to the State Office for a day to peruse stacks of new books from their subject. The only compensation they receive is lunch, and the state office pays the districts for their substitutes. The actual purchasing decisions will be made at the school and district level by educators who will examine the books regardless of who makes that initial review.

Reviewing the textbooks to see if they cover the Utah State Core is easy. Here is the state core for Algebra. A layman using the table of contents and index of an algebra textbook and flipping through the chapters could determine whether those state core standards (irrational numbers, Pythagorean Theorem, linear equations, formulas, graphing, etc.) were covered. A teacher familiar with the core and the subject matter can do it that much more easily and in a relatively short period of time. Just determining what is covered in a textbook is not rocket science and does not require expensive computers.

Here are the state core standards for geometry, biology, and 9th grade English. Look through them at the ordered list of standards and objectives. Would it be that hard to determine if a Biology book merely covers ecosystems, matter, organisms, cells, organs, genes, DNA, evolution, biological classification, etc.? I believe most readers of this blog could make that determination in 30 minutes or less. I know that actual Biology teachers can easily do it. An English text just has to teach Reading skills, Writing skills, and Inquiry skills, meaning research and logical thinking. The stories, plays, poems, lesson plans, etc. it uses to teach those skills are not mandated.

ProCert just wants to take a lot of time and money to break down the book page by page and tell you exactly what percentage of the book was spent on organisms, what percent on cells, etc. In a perfectly funded world, I would at least be curious about that data, but in our Utah schools struggling for funds, does that data measurable improve student learning as compared to teachers reviewing the books now? The answer is no.

There are stylistic, presentation, and quality differences between books that neither the quick teacher review or ProCert’s page counting and classifying address. Fotunately, it doesn’t matter. When a school decides to buy new Biology books (which given our strapped funds is NOT a common occurrence anyway), the teachers and administrators involved are going to look at the textbooks they consider. No one looks at the initial screening reviews, points a finger at the approved list, and justselects a book. The approved list saves them some time from looking at books that obviously are not adequate to Utah standards, but the teachers involved are going to evaluate the format, examples, graphics, lessons, etc. regardless of a good review. Having a more detailed review of what percent of pages are devoted to each topic according to ProCert isn’t going to hasten this process or really provide much meaningful information. No one will say, “Oh look. Company X is selling books with 2% more pages devoted to informational text than Company Y. Let’s buy sight unseen.’ It could point you to a company if there were drastic differences in coverage (which there generally won’t be between major publishers), but decisions on the actual quality of those pages devoted to geometric proofs, ecosystems, or short stories will be made by those purchasing the books.

ProCert is not qualified to evaluate the quality of material in a given textbook and does not pretend to provide that service. Paying them thousands of scarce education dollars for an initial screening is inefficient and wasteful. Howard Stephenson has obviously not taken the time to familiarize himself with how textbooks are actually chosen in schools and districts, and is thus “throwing money” at a gimmick that someone successfully pitched him. I listened to his words on the radio that morning, and he displayed zero knowledge of textbook purchasing procedures and just agreed with everything ProCert’s president claimed in his free sales pitch on the show. As quoted in the article, “Stephenson dismisses those in-house screenings as "schlock reviews" that are practically useless for teachers.” Where did he get that information? I’d bet from ProCert. His reliance on outside sources and distrust of educators fosters mutual distrust from our side. He holds the hoops and plays the music while we jump through them. (And why was Stephenson that personally and minutely involved? He claims that ProCert was not a Utah Taxpayer’s Association member [a claim we have no way of verifying since it’s a secret list], and Paul Hoffman debunked Gehrke’s assertion that Hoffman was related to lobbyist, Ruland Gill. Even with that denial, Rolly still claimed that Gill was related and involved in lobbying the USOE. I have trouble believing there was not some ulterior connection somewhere that got Stephenson invested in this “textbook review” idea. The “Welfare for Waterford” bill was supported by a prominent, ex-legislator and lobbyist, Cap Ferry. What was the ProCert connection? )

I am unsure to what extent ProCert or some other outside company is reviewing textbooks currently. The Gehrke article mentions that the law requiring outside review passed in 2007, that the bidding process got tangled in controversy, that the legislature subsequently amended the law in the 2008 session (I don’t know what that amendment did), and that as of Nov. 29 last year, the contract had not been awarded. I can say that the traditional textbook review/screening process was still going on at the State Office of Education last year. I can also confirm that the two employees Stephenson wanted fired were in fact either reassigned or fired before Gehrke’s article was even written. The textbook department had new directors still adjusting to their responsibilities in Fall 2008. They had only been in their positions for a few months and were reluctant to discuss what had happened to their predecessors, although they implied that the former directors were still employed at the state office somewhere.

The point is that technology does not always make a process more effective or cost-efficient. Mindlessly turning education over to the huge educational material industry will not ensure quality. (Think about the college textbook racket for a point of reference. These “educational” companies do not always have the best interest of students in mind.) Legislators need to work with actual educators to find technologies that truly improve learning for the students and not just take as gospel the claims of every slick-talking salesman out there.


Collection of articles about ProCert and Howard Stephenson's drive to favor them with state education contracts

All underlining of sections of the articles was done by me.

1. The initial article bringing the issue to light. Excellent interviews and historical context. Top notch reporting by Robert Gehrke.
Did Utah senator's advocacy go too far?
Textbook case: Stephenson leaned on educators on behalf of an Orem company.

By Robert Gehrke

The Salt Lake Tribune
Updated: 11/29/2008 10:08:40 PM MST

It was past midnight and Sen. Howard Stephenson was livid.

Hammering out an early-morning e-mail to Utah education officials, the Draper Republican lashed out at "subversives" in the department for their shabby treatment of ProCert Labs, an Orem-based company whose services Stephenson had been advocating for years.

In a series of heated e-mails and phone calls, Stephenson, who heads the committee that sets the public education budget, threatened to withhold support from the Utah Office of Education, suggested it be downsized and have work outsourced and that the malcontents mistreating ProCert could be fired.

"This persistent, long-term and ongoing defiance on the part of [the two employees] is unacceptable and, in my opinion, is justification for termination of employment," Stephenson wrote.

The e-mail, and other angry phone calls and missives from Stephenson on ProCert's behalf, stunned state Superintendent Patti Harrington.

"When it gets to be a strained relationship around one vendor and irate e-mails around one vendor, that does get problematic, and it feels like we're being bullied," Harrington said. "I don't think that's an appropriate type of pressure to be put on a state agency."

But it was just one example of several since 2007 in which Stephenson had waded into the minutiae of contracts and vendors at the state education office, attempting to shape education programs created by the Legislature and the lucrative contracts
to implement them.

"I'm just trying to get the 21st-century tools into the hands of our teachers and I don't care who gets the bid," said Stephenson, who also is president of the Utah Taxpayers Association and a registered lobbyist. "When you're as committed to saving money, precious taxpayer resources, as I am, that's why I want to make sure we get the best bang for the buck."

He said his watchdogging stopped education officials from diverting $30 million meant for technology improvements into salaries and pushed stubborn bureaucrats into adopting new technology and upgrading Utah's lagging rate of computers in classrooms.

Records show that, on several occasions in the past two years Stephenson made detailed recommendations and suggested specific changes to criteria for picking companies to receive state funds, including revisions to a program to provide laptop computers to preschoolers.

That degree of legislative involvement is rare. Typically, lawmakers set policy, allocate funds and then let the executive branch award contracts. Occasionally legislators have called with input, but none, aside from Stephenson, has put any complaints or recommendations in writing.

Harrington said Stephenson is the "singular example" of a legislator who has weighed in with the education office and, as the senator who controls the education budget, his wishes are hard to ignore.

That type of interaction "is exactly what everyone doesn't want to have happen," said Steven Schooner, a George Washington University law professor who specializes in government contracting.

"It could be the people doing the purchasing were incompetent," Schooner said. "But if your Legislature is getting involved in individual procurements, the system isn't going to work in the long run."

Last summer, the Legislature's general counsel gave GOP lawmakers a primer on the propriety of intervening in government-contract issues, a response to Stephenson's actions and other factors.

The Legislature's ethics rules state that members "shall not exercise any undue influence on any governmental entity," but Stephenson maintains he's crossing no such lines.

"It's my job, as chairman of the committee," he said, "that the will of the Legislature is carried out when we do pass laws and make appropriations for these things."

Stephenson said he has no financial stake in any of the companies involved in the contracting issues. They have not contributed to his campaigns nor do they belong to the Utah Taxpayers Association. His only motivation, he said, is a passion to ensure teachers get the tools they need.

Harrington said she respects Stephenson's vision and drive for using technology in classrooms, and they frequently see eye to eye.

At the same time, her department no longer provides advance copies of "requests for proposals" to legislators, rules have been adopted to insulate the contracting process, and she now makes the final determination on high-profile contracts to protect her staff from political pressure.

Stephenson said he suspects educators may be criticizing him now because in tough budget times he has resisted their effort to ax many reforms he championed, such as performance pay for teachers and laptops for preschoolers.

"Collectively, these things I've been pushing have a toll on the state office and there is a desire to neutralize me as chairman of education appropriations, and I think this reaction is an attempt to do that," he said, adding that he won't stop pushing the office for reforms.

The most striking example of Stephenson's activism involved ProCert Labs, which is seeking to review Utah's textbooks, pinpointing where concepts in the state's core curriculum are taught to help instructors teach the required lessons. The work could be worth millions.

ProCert President Paul Hoffmann, who is the son-in-law of prominent lobbyist Ruland Gill, said the company has clashed with some education officials for years for reasons he doesn't understand, but suspects the bureaucrats might feel threatened by privatization.

In 2003, a legislative committee, which included Stephenson, took the unusual step of writing specifications for innovative education programs, then awarded handpicked vendors, including ProCert, money to bid for the programs. But when the Legislature tried to fund the ProCert contract the next year, then-Gov. Olene Walker vetoed the project.

Walker said she felt having lawmakers award contracts to specific vendors was inappropriate.

"The Legislature has the right to make policy and set divisions of power, but it's the executive branch's job to implement them," Walker said last week, "and I felt quite strongly about that separation of powers."

At the time, Stephenson accused Walker in his taxpayer-association newsletter of caving to the teachers union. "In hindsight," he now says, "after reflecting on it, she probably did the right thing."

Harrington has been no fan of private "curriculum alignment." She says the panel of educators that has screened textbooks for more than eight decades has done it well.

Stephenson dismisses those in-house screenings as "schlock reviews" that are practically useless for teachers.

In 2007, Stephenson helped pass a bill requiring private textbook reviews, leaving it to state education officials to pick qualified reviewers. But when he felt ProCert was being treated unfairly by the state office, he made his displeasure known.

"I've had it!" Stephenson wrote in an e-mail. "It is obvious that [the program directors] are subversives who will stop at nothing to prevent the effective alignment of the texts to the core. … Perhaps downsizing USOE or outsourcing is the answer."

In another e-mail from his Senate account, he said, "I've never seen anything more outrageous in my 15 years in the Legislature."

Harrington replied that the office had "reached out to ProCert beyond what we have to others," and if Stephenson wanted to give ProCert the contract, "then we do have a problem that will need a broader remedy."

Stephenson says his e-mails were "advocacy for fairness." After a bidding process that dragged on for months, the Legislature amended the law last March and the contract has yet to be awarded.

2. A Tribune editorial a couple days later, criticizing Stephenson for his inherent conflict of interest as an industry lobbyist and violating the separation of powers between the branches of government.
Throwing weight
Senator should stick to legislating

Tribune Editorial
Updated: 12/01/2008 09:41:58 PM MST

Thanks to Utah's open-records law, we know that Sen. Howard Stephenson, R-Draper, who does questionable double duty as both a legislator and a lobbyist, inappropriately lambasted the State Office of Education for failing to hand a contract to a company that Stephenson likes.

Stephenson ignored the boundaries that constitutionally separate the branches of government and has, far too often, tried to bully education officials into applying laws and rules in ways that suit his purposes. It seems the good senator needs a lesson in how the separation of powers is supposed to work.

Here's a primer: The legislative branch's job is to appropriate funds and make the laws that broadly dictate how the Office of Education should run public schools for all Utah's children. A necessary line is drawn between legislating and the management of day-to-day functions of the various state bureaucracies.

In specific terms, a legislator isn't in charge of deciding what companies get contracts to provide the services that schools need in order to function. But Stephenson seems to believe otherwise, and he's not shy about wielding his funding power to get what he wants.

Stephenson, who chairs the Senate committee that holds the education pursestrings, stepped over the line when he angrily threatened in e-mails and phone calls to cut funding to the education office, get some of its work outsourced and have employees who defied his orders fired.

The senator should get a better grip on what's in his job description. If he needs help with that, he might very well check out the text of the Utah Constitution, the part, Article 5, titled "Distribution of Powers."

Stephenson says his meddling on behalf of ProCert, a textbook-review company, is necessary watchdogging to make sure taxpayers get "the best bang for the buck." But there's a difference between oversight and micromanaging.

Stephenson is no education expert, though he obviously sees himself as one. Instead, he is president of the Utah Taxpayers Association and a registered legislative lobbyist for that nonprofit group funded by businesses. As both lawmaker and lobbyist, he can argue for the policies he favors both on and off the floor of the Senate. That should keep him busy enough, without trying to do others' jobs, too.

In his questionable dual role, he is on shaky ethical ground and not in a good position to be flouting the Utah Constitution's express division of powers by throwing his senatorial weight around where it doesn't belong.

3. Tribune article detailing Stephenson's use of his Red Meat Radio show to attck the State Office of Education..."Stupid in Utah."

Lawmaker rips office of education
'Stupid in Utah' » Stephenson claims Tribune article spurred his rant on radio show.

By Lisa Schencker

The Salt Lake Tribune
Updated: 12/07/2008 07:58:27 PM MST

Tension between state education leaders and lawmakers over the years has been no secret.

Saturday morning, however, it noisily burst into public earshot with a two-hour radio show hosted by Sen. Howard Stephenson, R-Draper, titled, "Stupid in Utah: How the Utah State Office of Education hurts kids and teachers." Stephenson heads the legislative committee that shapes the state education budget.

"I thought the title for his show was beyond the pale," said State Superintendent Patti Harrington after hearing the show Saturday. "I was disappointed in that from Sen. Stephenson."

For two hours, Stephenson mostly slammed the state office for "subversiveness," dishonesty and for, he said, in some cases, resisting implementing state law.

He said an article that ran in The Salt Lake Tribune last week spurred him to air his complaints during his regular Saturday morning K-TALK AM 630 radio show, "Inside Utah Politics." That article revealed that Stephenson had pressured state education leaders with threatening e-mails regarding the process of selecting vendors vying for state education contracts.

"I have worked behind the scenes to try and get improvement there," Stephenson said. "But in defending myself against the Tribune attacks, I have to tell you why I was so involved in the State Office of Education."

He maintains that without his involvement, money allocated by lawmakers, in several cases, might not have been used for what lawmakers intended. For example, he said $30 million meant for classroom technology would have instead paid for support staff had he not examined the office's guidelines for the money, which were changed at the last minute by office employees. Harrington said she took "corrective action" toward those employees when she learned of the issue.

In another case, Stephenson said he became involved after he believed the state office showed bias against one company, ProCert Labs, which sought to gain state approval as a vendor aligning textbooks to curriculum.

Stephenson said Saturday he suspected the office was biased against ProCert because the company helped bring Saxon Math, a system that teaches math partly through drills and repetition, to Utah.

Harrington said Saturday she has only good things to say about Saxon Math and no bias against ProCert, which she said Saturday was "an excellent vendor."

Despite the public attack on education officials Saturday both Stephenson and Harrington said they don't think continuing to work together on state education issues in the future will be a problem.

Stephenson said the tension between him and education leaders will not guide his decisions during the upcoming legislative session.

"I don't punish those who speak against me, and I don't reward those who speak for me," Stephenson said in a phone interview after the show. "The policies we make during this coming session will not be affected by negative things said last Sunday." He also acknowledged during his show that most public education employees are dedicated and hard-working.

Harrington said she still worries about the pressure Stephenson puts on the state office regarding contracts and vendors, but she respects him as an overall education leader.

"I frankly believe you can disagree agreeably and still have a relationship that builds upon collaboration," Harrington said.

Stephenson said he hopes all the talk improves lawmakers' relationships with education leaders.

"Hopefully, it will be a healthier working relationship because we'll be open, honest and frank with each other," Stephenson said.


4. kcpw's recap of the radio blast and Stephenson saying he thinks the USOE is trying to "subvert the Legislature's intent." If they want one of his wasteful "reforms" cut, they are "out of control" and hurting Utah's children.

Sen. Stephenson Slams Office of Education

12.09.2008 by KCPW

(KCPW News) Senator Howard Stephenson has taken his beef with the State Office of Education public. He featured the USOE on his weekly talk show, Inside Utah Politics: Red Meat Radio. Stephenson says the public should know the state office is "out of control."

"The public generally doesn't know what's happening with that 500 plus bureaucracy that basically has general governance of education in Utah," Stephenson says. "And they needed to know the kinds of things that were happening there that hurt children and hurt teachers, that make it harder for teachers to do their job and make it harder for children to do better in school."

Stephenson's discontent with the office of education stems from a six-year-old debate about whether a private company should be paid to determine whether school districts are using textbooks aligned to the state curriculum. But more recently, Stephenson takes issue with the state's education leaders for wanting to cut three education reform programs passed last year: pay for performance, differentiated pay for math and science teachers and a computer-based preschool program. He says the office is trying to subvert the Legislature's intent.

"The state office and the state school board has shown its hostility toward many of the things that the Legislature has enacted, especially those things that are market driven, those things that give pay for performance, those things that satisfy teacher shortages," Stephenson says. "And the state board of education has officially said it wants those things cut."

Despite the tension, Stephenson says he doesn't hold grudges and will continue to work with the Office of Education. State Superintendent of Public Education Patti Harrington declined to comment on this story, but previously called the radio show "beyond the pale."

5. Letter to the editor from ProCert President, Paul Hoffman.

Stephenson wronged

Public Forum Letter
Updated: 12/09/2008 10:08:26 AM MST

In his story about Sen. Howard Stephenson and ProCert Labs, reporter Robert Gehrke wrote that I am "prominent lobbyist" Ruland Gill's son-in-law. I am not ("Did Utah senator's advocacy go too far?", Tribune, Nov. 30). He also implied that Stephenson supported textbook alignment based on my relationship with Gill. Wrong again.

Utah teachers deserve to know which sections of the thick, nationally published textbooks apply to Utah's curriculum without having to spend countless hours sorting through the textbooks themselves. That curriculum is the basis for student testing and grading teacher effectiveness.

What the Tribune story missed is that ProCert's detailed review would have identified on the Internet what textbook sections would be used in the testing of school children. It would allow parents access to information about what their children are learning.

Utah teachers go above and beyond to compensate for the lack of modern tools to help them. Sen. Stephenson is working diligently to bring useful modern education tools to them. I applaud him for holding the Utah State Office of Education accountable and making sure that taxpayer money is well spent.

Paul Hoffmann
President, ProCert Labs

Cedar Hills

6. Paul Rolly weighs in. He repeats Gehrke's initial claim that Hoffman is related to Rulon Gill which was stringly refuted by Hoffman. He adds that Rulon Gill was frequently involved in lobbying for the ProCert bill. Why? Rolly also details other instances of the legislature selcting individual companies for special treatment.

Contracting with Utah? Helps to know a legislator

The Salt Lake Tribune
Updated: 12/14/2008 08:46:13 AM MST

Since The Salt Lake Tribune published a story Nov. 30 that detailed Sen. Howard Stephenson's outrage at state education officials for not issuing a contract to a private company Stephenson favored, the Draper Republican has been on a public rampage.

He railed against the State Office of Education on the Saturday morning radio program the Republican legislative caucus sponsors and Stephenson co-hosts, and the Republican Senate site on the Internet has urged readers to listen to Stephenson's rants or read them on that site.

But the senator's aggressive advocacy for ProCert labs getting the nod over any other potential bidder is nothing new for Stephenson, R-Draper, or other members of the Legislature who have tried to use their power to benefit one particular company.

Stephenson, as outlined in the Nov. 30 story, wrote a series of heated e-mails and made phone calls threatening the budget of the Utah Office of Education and suggesting education staffers not cooperating with the ProCert agenda be fired.

ProCert employs a system of evaluating Utah's textbooks, pinpointing where concepts in the state's core curriculum are found to help instructors teach the required lessons.

The initial legislation that singled out ProCert for the contract was vetoed by then Gov. Olene Walker, who said it was inappropriate for legislators to award contracts to specific contractors.

Subsequent legislation included procurement requirements favorable to ProCert's program, but ProCert officials have complained that public education officials have not been cooperative.

The contract is yet to be awarded.

Stephenson has said he has no financial interest in ProCert, but one of the company's executives is Scott Hoffmann, the son-in-law of lobbyist Ruland Gill, who is on the board of the Utah Taxpayers Association, which employs Stephenson as its president. Education officials said Gill approached them several times on Pro-Cert's behalf in 2007.

Meanwhile, Stephenson got involved in the bidding process for a pilot program the Legislature approved to provide educational software for preschoolers. The request for proposals was tailored to a program developed by Waterford Schools, whose lobbyist is Republican insider Cap Ferry.

Other custom-fit programs approved by the Legislature favoring one vendor include:

» A database for posting student test scores was the subject of intense scrutiny by some legislators, including Stephenson, in which a company named Digital Bridge was invited several times to make presentations. The RFP was subject to several challenges with Digital Bridge allegedly receiving unusually favorable treatment by lawmakers.

» Stephenson and former Rep. Jim Ferrin pushed a bill in 2006 to prevent local municipalities from refusing to issue building permits for schools in their cities. The bill paved the way for those who wanted to build charter schools in residential neighborhoods. Ferrin, former Rep. Glenn Way and Rep. Mike Morley were in the business of financing and constructing buildings for charter schools.

» Rep. Becky Lockhart sponsored a bill to study the feasibility of privatizing the state's mental hospital in Provo after she and several other lawmakers were invited to Florida to tour a private mental facility there. Her bill would have had the Legislature's Executive Appropriations Committee review proposals for the project rather than the State Purchasing Office, which normally handles contract proposals.

» Rep. Greg Hughes sponsored a bill last year allowing the state to contract with a private company to evaluate sex offenders to determine the likelihood of them reoffending. When Sen. John Greiner amended the bill in the Senate because of concerns it was written for just one specific company, an angry Hughes aggressively confronted Greiner.

The amendment was taken out and the bill passed in its original form. But, because of a mistake, the bill was filed with the amended language. So far, because of that glitch, the program has not been implemented.

7. Rolly details the fears of education officials during the 2009 session that Stephenson's SB 64 was aimed at attacking their employees for disagreeing with him.

Beware the wrath of Stephenson

By Paul Rolly

The Salt Lake Tribune
Updated: 03/10/2009 03:50:38 PM MDT

Sen. Howard Stephenson, known for his tempter tantrums when state agencies don't give contracts to his favorite vendors, has a bill this year that would allow the Administrative Rules Review Committee to examine how the agencies spend money appropriated to them.

If an agency does not obey the intent of the Legislature, according to Stephenson's SB64, it will be reported to the Legislature's Executive Appropriations Committee.

The bill has passed the Senate and has been pending in the House since Thursday. Word is that some House members, as well as the governor's office, are concerned about the potential intimidation factors in the bill.

If an agency doesn't find a favored company to be the best fit for a contract that the Legislature funds, for example, will it be punished financially for its impudence?

Stephenson, R-Draper, who is co-chair of the Administrative Rules Review Committee, was scheduled to meet with the State School Board last Friday to explain the bill, since the Office of Education has most often borne the brunt of his wrath. But he didn't show.

Stephenson has gone apoplectic in the past when his favorite bidder, ProCert, was not awarded the contract for textbook review; when his designated vendor did not get the nod for a pilot gifted and talented program; and when the State Procurement Office didn't steer the bidding process the way he wanted on a student database system.

8. The House never did vote on SB 64.


Thursday, October 1, 2009

Part 4 of Utah County ethics hearing: Q & A, contention, the discussions afterward, and some initial thoughts

Guy whose name I didn’t catch – Prefaces comment saying either Karl Snow or John Valentine can answer the question. We have current per diem for legislative work. When did lobbyist gifts enter the picture and become allowed? (Neither Snow nor Valentine really answered the question which is actually kind of interesting. Was there ever a rule against accepting gifts from special interests? Bribery has existed as long as the union—the position of paid lobbyist is fairly new…40-50 yrs maybe? Was permission ever expressly granted for legislators to accept gifts, or was it always assumed they could accept whatever they wanted for their “sacrifice” and restrictions are the new trend?) (Also, the crowd in back got restless here and there was a lot going on in the room, so I think I missed some of what Snow said.) Karl Snow - Lobbyists have a special interest interest. They are not just “being kind” when they throw around all that money. (Here the shrill lady mentioned in the last post bellows piercingly, ”Hold the mike closer!” when she should have yelled at her friends in the back to shut up.) They expect a return on that investment. I’d like to invite the legislators to reply as well. (Rumble, rumble from the talking crowd at the back. They got extra mad whenever gifts came up.)

Ned Hill asks Senator Valentine to come up, but it is not 100% clear what is going on for a moment because all the questions until now have been from the cards and regular crowd members and the legislative bunch in back are talking. As Valentine comes forward, John Talcott rudely shouts,”Who are you?” Ned Hill replies with Senator’s name and position. Talcott grumbles about special treatment. John Valentine – (Valentine’s whole little speech and tone were condescending and thus extremely unconvincing. The “pity the poor legislator” tact comes off hollow.) This is to punish legislators. Before we can regulate this, we have to determine what is a gift. This initiative says refreshments of negligible value are allowed (described earlier as carrot sticks by Janet Jensen), so then meals are OK. (What?! This kind of BS lawyer-speak logical leap is frustrating. Claiming to not know the difference between brownies at the back table of a conference and Reagan Signs specifically taking you and your wife out for $90+ meals makes us dislike and not trust you Senator. Can’t you see that?) If meals are not a gift, then I have never accepted a gift. (This statement was met with disbelief and I think someone in the crowd guffawed.) We're on trial. If these same laws were applied to school districts and cities, there would be a huge uproar. ( A burst of clapping came from the legislator buddies in back as Valentine finished his speech. And again, what is Valentine talking about? Seriously. He thinks the public would have an uproar if state school members and city council members were banned from accepting campaign donations from corporations and unions, banned from working as a registered lobbyist simultaneously while “serving” as an elected official, banned from using their campaign money for personal use, or required to state a reason for amending the campaign financial disclosures after the election is over? PLEASE pass that law as long as you apply it to state legislators as well. Please try and talk to someone who is not a political insider about what makes them trust or distrust their government. Talk about clueless from a man who has $187,000 in mostly special interest donations stockpiled for a run for governor.)

Karl Snow quickly took the microphone for a final rebuttal, which was quite elegant and I have butchered horribly in my summary – John, the legislature has allowed themselves to be put on trial…because of their actions. (Much of the seated crowd applauded that statement loudly for the first time in response to the legislative crony applause a moment before.)

Ned Hill - I'm on corporate boards. We must detail all conflicts and be very clear about them. We are asking them to live the standards of most boards of directors.

Brad Agle – (The Trib coverage of the hearing focused on his remarks) I moved here 2 months ago from Pennsylvania where I was a Professor of Ethics. Now I’ve joined the faculty at BYU. The legislature is on trial because they must be accountable. They must be accountable to the people. Pennsylvania needs ethics reform too. (This brought forced laughter from the initiative advocates seated in front. Once again, whatever situation in Pennsylvania Agle was referring to, the laughter is not persuasive of your point.) The initiative creating a code of conduct implies there is not one currently? Is there a code of conduct? Janet Jensen – There are some disclosure requirements, but the deadlines are often late and the reporting confusing. We are one of only 6 states with no code of conduct. One of the others is Illinois, like under Governor Blagojevitch.

Janet Jensen - I’ve had to fill out a 50 pg. disclosure for jobs listing work, credit card, property, debt, what your spouse owns, etc. This applies for congress members, stocks and bonds they own. Their staffs must do it too. This initiative is mild as ethics and disclosure go.

Ned Hill - Many politicians are doing a great job and this will not impact them. It draws bright lines and boundaries.

Jim Greer - Once the commission recommendation is made, is there any law that the legislature has to follow the recommendations? Janet Jensen – We hope this will go a long way by making the decision public. Public scrutiny and accountability will encourage the legislature to do something with the recommendations and not ignore them. There is no law requiring them to follow the recommendations.

Angryish lady
– I read the initiative. She turns to the crowd and asks “How many in here have read it?” About half of those seated raised their hands. "Oh." (It was obvious that she was expecting the number to be low so she could rail on her point about the bad details that overreach that no one reads. Many opposing the initiative made that point and I’ve read it a couple times. They will be using that argument extensively apparently.) This initiative is not good. There are inconsistencies. It gives a small group of people power. Speaking of the qualifications—you can't have current elected office, be party people, be a candidate, etc. Some of people on the initiative panel are running for office. They don't meet their own qualifications. (There was shouting from the crowd here that no, there were no candidates on the initiative team. The lady responded there was one lady in Davis District. No again, from either the crowd or presenters. One of the legislators yelled out that Cheryl Petersen ran as a Democrat which seemed to be the truth of the matter. Lots of comments come from the crowd at this point, telling the legislative group to be quiet. People for and against the initiative yelled out comments. I wrote down “accusations,” but I can’t remember who accused who of what.)

I missed here if someone asked a question or if Jensen was responding to something said by the legislators in back. Janet Jensen- Nothing is made a crime. The commission just finds the facts. (From the back, a female snorted “A felony.” A recommendation for felony criminal charges is one of the possible outcomes of the commission hearings.) “I'll get to that,” Jensen replied. Due process in our US Constitution only applies to life interest or property. Courts have held that no person has property interest in elected office. (Unfortunately, that’s not exactly true when a legislator can accept unlimited campaign donations from parties with legislation before the body, and then cash out that campaign fund as income at his/her discretion.) Legislators can't sue over loss of office. So the same due process rules do not apply. Public office is just a privilege. Courts around the nation, including Utah, have ruled this. (This was another of Jensen’s vague pronouncements where citing some specific precedents would have been much more credible.) There is no right to due process for a violation of ethics rules. None. The initiative writers, however, bent over backwards to give due process twice. There is the commission hearing w/ a lawyer paid for by the state. The legislators cannot be represented by legislative staff lawyers because they are conflicted. Because the legislators are their boss and can hire or fire them. (Not fire them as a client, but fire them from their “firm,” in this case the state.) The accused legislator can get a lawyer, subpoena evidence and witnesses, provide witnesses, etc. The ethics commission then issues findings and refers them to the legislature. The legislature can do what it wants with the recommendations. This is another opportunity for due process. It's not a conviction of crime, so the burden of proof is much lower. We are so proud that the state is run like a business; this is like business. Once prima facie evidence is provided, the legislator must provide their own proof of their innocence. (I saw this comparison written somewhere else, but I cannot remember where. It said this investigative process is common in business because the rule-breaker often is the only one with access to the necessary evidence, thus making it virtually impossible to prove any indiscretions by normal means. I’d be interested in the knowledge of anyone with experience on corporate boards. Do investigations and charges of breaking company policies or ethics really work the way the initiative proponents assert?)

Karl Snow - Due process is to face your accuser, call witnesses, etc. All of that is provided. The five initiative signers as back-up are there to motivate the leaders to agree on names. The legislature will do it. The legislature can and will change this law once it passes. They will tweak it how they want. They will have to. For instance, we will die. (Correcting Jensen’s earlier mistake that the replacement of those 5 signers is in the bill.)

Man in the back on window ledge yells out - Do you have term limits or is your role indefinite? Karl Snow prevaricates a little – No. The legislature will change that.
Bramble shouts out—Don't you and 12 others have the lifetime right to intervene? (This is when Bramble was shouted down by Talcott and others about the process, saying that he had to follow the rules.) Ned Hill – You can fill out a card if you would like. Bramble – “I want an honest answer!” (More angry crowd resistance to Bramble quiets him.)

College student who was a legislative intern - Do you have cost concerns about commission establishing own rules? (I may not have written that down completely right…) Janet Jensen replied pompously - “Absolutely no concerns.” We are the legislative branch in this case, and we can establish a commission w/ power to make its own rules. Our legislative power is sacrosanct. The legislature can make its own rules too.

little old lady named Mary - How can I get signatures? Have any of these ideas been used by any of the other 40 states who have more ethics rules than Utah? Janet Jensen – It is very similar to many, many other states’ commissions. (I was really frustrated with this answer. If you’re presenting in favor of a large proposal you claim is the result of extensive study, come prepared knowing which specific parts are similar to which other states. Or if you’ve created something original because of the unique local concerns in Utah, then be honest about it. Don’t leave us in the dark making suppositions.)

Another older lady started out very nicely- I respectfully disagree w/ Janet. This bill is overkill. I'm nervous to talk up here. (This statement garnered sympathetic noises from the crowd, but was almost immediately drowned out by the loud lady in the back yelling for her to speak up.) She reads from pgs. 15 and 16 of the initiative text, explaining that the legislature cannot participate in the quiet investigative period. They have no right to intervene. It’s not fair. I exhort all here to read the bill like I did.

(Janet Jensen’s next comment came out oily again, but I think it was a fair thought—I think the legislative opposition is purposely confusing the quiet informal investigative period and the full commission hearings as well.) Janet Jensen - I think it's confusing. In mid-step as she walks down the aisle, the lady who asked the question yells with rage “I can read!” Jensen – Well, don't mess with the mom of a lawyer. (This got a few chuckles, went over my head, and did not assuage the lady at all.) The time when the legislator cannot formally participate is only during the quiet period. Then they have all rights. Complainants cannot participate in an ethics hearing at ALL currently. They can’t even be in the room or present documentation of their charge. The current hearings give the charge virtually no chance without the research and perspective of the complainants. After the full hearing of the commission, and then possibly a full hearing by the legislature, this is maybe more due process than anyone would want. Her concern is about one little part of the process. The lady was standing at the back of the room and her face contorted with cranky rage as she then shouted “No! It’s about the whole initiative!” (Ignoring the fact that her comment had been about one small part of the process. This whole exchange was weird and kind of comical. This very nice, grandmotherly looking lady started her comment out so sweetly and nervously, showed more emotion at the end as she railed on the initiative’s unfairness, and then seriously channeled a stereotypical cranky yard lady when she shouted out during Jensen’s reply. She was in the hallway afterward being interviewed by the BYU camera girl who filmed the debate. Who knows where that can be viewed?)

D. Lynn Sorenson
– I didn't know that being the mom of an attorney carried weight. I am too. (She worded that better than I am conveying and garnered laughs after the last speaker.) I thank the committee for forming and working on this initiative. To Craig Dennis – What about other commissions? You seem to have experience on other political or corporate commissions. Please point to a state where the ethics commission is working well. For those that think this seems too new, ore seems scary or weird, please give us an example.

Craig Dennis – I am not prepared; I didn't do research. Janet, can you help? Janet - I can't think of any right off the top of my head. Ummmm…Colorado hs a good commission. Washington has one. [She sounded very unprepared here] If you want info, go look at NCSL website for research. There is a bundle of info if you want to get into this. (Lame non-answer. Just say you don’t know.)

Margaret Stolk – I have concerns. How much money be paid to lawyers for each complaint filed by any three people? Can the accuser be from New York? Can the charge be frivolous? What are the salaries of the 20 commissioners? (Crowd yells about there being only 5 commissioners. After a moment, she continues.) In my humble opinion, this will start an unaccountable 4th branch of government unaccountable to the Attorney General, courts, or anyone else.

Janet Jensen
– The commissioners don't make money. [I roll my eyes as she says this. The legislator crowd in back yells “They get per diem!”] They don’t get money. They get what legislators make per diem for meetings, etc. [The legislators yell “Then legislators make no money!”] I think the 472,000 dollars is a bargain compared to overall state expenditures. This commission is part of the legislative branch because of the state constitution. It’s part of the legislative branch recommending discipline or censure. Judges and judicial review do not apply to sanctions of the legislative branch to itself. Our first thought was that no one should get attorney fees. Last year, a legislator retained an expensive lawyer for a hearing under the current process, then lobbyists and special interests donated money to pay for his (Greg Hughes’) attorney fees. We don't want that. So we bend over backwards for good process and give them money for a lawyer. (There was something about Jensen claiming you can retain a good lawyer for $80-$90 an hour, but I didn’t get it down specifically enough.) The complainants do not get money to pay lawyers. (The “persuasive” legislative laughter burst from the back at this.) Tell your legislators to amend and change that if you want. (People in back yell out that attorney fees run $200 or more an hour. That this is not necessary. The lawyer fund is open and can run whatever a legislator decides to pay. It will bankrupt the government…This was a long, loud stretch.)
Karl Snow - Frivolous charges are deposed of in quiet period before lawyers get involved. (The loud lady in back yells “Speak closer to the mic!” again.)

Erika - When does the right to the paid attorney kick in? (I didn’t write down if this reply was Jensen or Snow) The executive director and staff vet the claim. There are no lawyer fees at this point. The legislator can participate informally, so can the complainants. If the executive director finds there is a basis in law or fact, he/she then refers the matter to the entire commission. At that point, the accused legislator can spend provided money on a lawyer. (Another older gentleman who had yelled out a lot, exited the room here.)

Adrielle Harrion
- Any effort to push ethical standards high is good. (Again loud laughter from the back.] This initiative may push the legislators to better their ethical rules. (A loud incredulous gasp from behind me. Needless to say, the vaudevillian antics were wearing thin. Especially since this lady was not speaking in favor of the initiative.) I have read the bill and have many concerns however. Karl Snow said the selection of the 20 commissioner candidates will not fall to him and the other 4 signatories. I don't think that's true. Some of the legislative leadership may be aligned w/ signatories, and may hold out. This is a real problem with the provision that commissioner selection could fall to the 5 signatories. It could lead to unethical unwillingness to approve good people by some legislative leadership.

Ned Hill -They don't serve themselves, just appoint others to candidate pool.

Karl Snow - This is the hard part. The legislature can change this. We want to encourage agreement between the 4 legislative leaders. I don't think it is that difficult. (I didn’t note this well, but Snow repeated several times here that the legislature will have to tweak and change some of these procedures if the initiative passes. I appreciate his honesty, but it does make the supporters seem underprepared. At the same time, Snow explained that this was a difficult question of how to motivate compliance and agreement by the legislative leaders in selecting candidates for the commission. If the legislature could just not select anyone and hold up the process, what good would it do?) We are spending too much time on this rather than the main point of the bill.

Ned Hill – They don’t want the process to be stalled. They want to hurry to an agreement on names. They don't serve on the commission themselves.

Jane Lawson – I’d like to thank the commission. Maybe I'm naive, but who would file a complaint if they have to pay their own lawyer fees? Is this a loophole on who will be able to complain—only rich? Janet Jensen - In the first drafts, everyone got attorney fees (As well as a version where no one got attorney fees that she mentioned above. It makes me worry about which versions went out for review by scholars/lawyers), but we were worried about paying for lawyers for all those who might complain…for whackjobs. I hope that citizens care enough about corruption, bribery, aggrandizement, to complain. It is scary. The cost will disincentivize some from complaining. They will have to think long and hard. It’s good thing if people will think long and hard. We did the best we could to make this fair.

- Thanks those who drafted this. Ethics is important. However, even though he is masters student still learning, reading the language reveals this challenges ability o citizens to have control. The language is derogatory and gives too much power to the commission. Snow said this wouldn't create power. Be careful, this is giving another group power. I still consider this a draft. It needs to be edited. Look at the power given. The intentions are good, but this is a malicious direction. Is there a way to address these issues without forming a separate commission? (The legislators clapped loudly at his speech).

Janet Jensen - Wow. We had a committee of the best and brightest lawyers who put in 100's of hours doing drafting and research; it has been vetted by scholars and deans of law schools. The initiative can be confusing because it is written in the language of law and that's confusing to non-lawyers. (That was a dumb comment. I think Jensen couldn’t take the criticism at this point and was just being stuck-up. Though I agreed with her next comment.) The legislature could have passed meaningful ethics laws for 100 years and they haven’t done anything. (Lorie Fowlke, who I usually consider fairly rational and well-spoken for a Utah County legislator yells out “That is not true!”) My notes are garbled here, but Jensen finishes with something to the effect of “Draft a better initiative if you want.” (The legislative crowd in back was grumbling and talking all through this last part.)

Ned Hill stood and said they would only take one more question. Legislative crowd yelled that the meeting went until nine. Hill said that library staff had informed them they had to be out of the room by nine. (This really isn’t enough time given the crowd and involvement. The last name is drawn from the pile and it is…Claralyn Hill. Ned’s wife, Democratic candidate for House last year, and center of the controversy where legislators demanded a private apology of Claralyn before Ned would be considered as president of UVU. Hmmmm… He seemed surprised, but who knows.)

Claralyn Hill – (Given the very recent history I just described, of the legislators taking her campaign stance in favor of ethics reform so personally that they demanded apologies months after the fact, she may not have been the best person to articulate her message.) Legislators, don't take this personally. This is not a personal dig. The legislators are taking this personally. It is the right thing to do. It is a trend in corporations. (The incredulous laughter from the back returns.) When you say legislators cannot be drafted into corporate boards, does that include non-profits? And how will you know if the reason they are selected is just because they are a member of the legislature?

Janet Jensen
- Yes, this applies to non-profits as well. Holding the position cannot make money for self. It applies only to boards that pay, whether for profit or non-profit company. (My notes here were disjointed again. I need to reread that portion of the initiative).

The hearing ended and people exited or sat around in circles and talked.

The legislators that I saw during the hearing were Senators Curt Bramble and John Valentine, and House Representatives Lorie Fowlke, Craig Frank, Becky Lockhart, and Chris Herrod. I also saw Stan Lockhart, former head of the state Republican Party, and Taylor Oldroyd, new chairman of the Utah County Republican Party. I saw Brad Daw afterwards. Don Jarvis told some that every Utah County legislator was there…I just didn’t see/recognize them all myself.

I tried to walk around and listen a little to conversations. I talked to a couple people. Chris Herrod had a big smile on his face and was schmoozing the lady named Mary who had asked how she could help gather signatures and about other states’ commissions. He told her and her friend that he’d have to quit the legislature if this initiative passed and so would lots of others. It would set up 2 classes of legislators—the teachers and the other employees. (As far as I know, this was the first time I had heard teachers brought up all night.) The teachers run conflict of interest bills all the time. They just passed 2 or 3 extra days of special ed. teacher prep time in the summer. (I want to return to this in another post. The true feelings of the legislators in conversation. Just think of the corporate subsidy of your choice and then the bill he just mentioned.)

I got the feeling the legislative opposition is going to focus on the commission as evil, unconstitutional power grab. This has been borne out in commentary so far and by the pressure on Lt. Governor, Greg Bell, not to certify the petitions on constitutional grounds. The legislators were mad the meeting ended early and wanted more open forum and debate. I actually agree with that, although I’ll post later on the hypocrisy inherent in that.

I mentioned in a previous post the woman I overheard laughing about the rude lady who passed out the opposition flyers while pretending Don Jarvis gave her permission. This same woman told a couple other people that they needed a plan because “We lost vouchers the last time.” This really got me thinking. Why did she even bring that up? My increased political involvement goes back to vouchers. The ethics hearings last year were about charges of impropriety during the voucher campaign. The election cycles prior to the passing of the voucher bill were textbook illustrations of outside moneyed influence picking off anti-voucher Republicans with tacit agreement from legislative leaders who were also receiving this outside money funneled through Parents for Choice in Education. Rep. Herrod and Sen. Hillyard’s flyers specifically bring teachers into the debate as conflicted whiners trying to unfairly stain the name of just legislators. I think they really see teachers like they see Democrats, one-sided enemies. They have no understanding I think of the motivations of most teachers, the diverse viewpoints among Utah teachers, and how someone like me who holds a basically Republican macro-view of government, can now name specific anti-teacher statements, actions, and bills that make me distrust many of the leading Republican legislators in the state. Anyway, more of that in further posts.

As I walked out, a library security guard turned off many of the lights encouraging the groups to disperse. Curt Bramble and I think Becky Lockhart were with a group in the hall, and I heard someone lividly say something like “And they tell us not to take it personally?!”

I think I truly saw some of the legislators’ perceptions tonight, and they’re living in a perceptual box. They surround themselves with rigid partisans and try to laugh off those who disagree with them as disaffected political losers or evil liberals. I really think most of them don’t get it. They’re convinced that everyone else is seeing things wrong and the problems are just a “perception problem” of the public caused by scheming Democrats aided by the liberal media. They don’t get that politically involved people in the state quickly discover unethical, power-hoarding incidents involving the legislature, and only the relentlessly partisan among those involved people think it’s OK. Independent leaning people on all sides are angry, and the legislators’ “poor me, stop picking on us” routine is not convincing. It comes off as hypocritical rather than righteously indignant, and rank and file Republicans strongly support the intent and purpose of the initiative. The voucher debate involved a lot of technical back and forth, but the reason they were overturned was a large public belief that they were hand-outs to the wealthy that damaged public schools. The technicalities and attempted liberal labeling (czars) will not convince people that the idea of reigning in ethical and financial corruption is bad if this initiative makes it on to the ballot.

I can understand that many of them feel personally accused of lack of integrity, but the argument that “The politicians everywhere else have problems, but not in Utah…just trust us,” is a thin and shabby excuse not to enact regulations to prevent payoffs and increase public transparency.

Monday, September 28, 2009

Part 3 of Utah County ethics initiative hearing: mostly commentary on shouters out and some questions and answers

I’ll start off giving a little bit more of Craig Dennis’ remarks. I was tired and probably didn’t do them justice. As usual, my inserted comments will be in parentheses.

Craig Dennis: Washington and California are even worse at incumbent protection. California has some legislative districts almost as big as congressional districts. (Really?) Our state has very low voter turn out (among lowest 5 state in the nation) and low public engagement. Addressing ethics will raise voter participation. Should the legislature accept gifts or use campaign funds after they leave office? That is inappropriate.

On a business board, we have training and address conflicts. The public demands ethics. Take part. Take this bold step after endless delays.

During Mr. Dennis’ remarks, a lady from the back yelled “Please speak louder!” This was a repeated occurrence for the rest of the night. Now, in one sense this is a perfectly reasonable request. There were 20-30 people standing at the back of the room, including most or all of the Utah County legislators, and the doors were open to the hallway. On the other hand, I could hear everything fine seated from my seat near the back of the room and we were in a conference room on the 3rd floor of the Provo Library with little or no foot traffic out in the hall. The microphone seemed to be working fine. I think the main reason that the crowd in back, and this semi-shrill woman standing near the door in particular, had to keep yelling for the speakers to be louder is because they were the main source of distracting noise in the room. The people standing in back were almost 100% friends and family of the legislators (As I mentioned, the majority of the legislators and those who came with them arrived after the meeting had already begun.), and they were buzzing back and forth arguing points under their breath and talking the entire night. The low roar got worse as Ms. Jensen finished up her presentation and into Mr. Dennis’ remarks, and they quit even trying to be polite during the Question and Answer session. That particular woman, and some others, yelled out for people to speak more loudly every few minutes all during the 2nd hour of the meeting, but would not shut up themselves. I think any person attending that is not part of that group would confirm my account of the noise and interruptions coming from the back.

And while I’m on the topic, the legislative friend group had one other extremely annoying “public meeting strategy." The first time I wrote down when it happened was during the second answer in the Q&A session, but I took specific note of it because it wasn’t the first time it had happened. When the presenters, usually Janet Jensen or Karl Snow, would make a point that the legislators disagreed with, the little group in the back would loudly guffaw, nudge each other, and look around at each other for confirmation of how ridiculous the argument was. You could hear Senator Bramble specifically more than once, but it was widespread in the back. They seemed to think that this was an excellent persuasive tool to convince those in the room that ethics reform was unnecessary. In reality, I think it demonstrated to any seated in the room the arrogance of many in the legislative coterie and their inability to see anything from another point of view.

The Question and Answer Session:

Ned Hill explained that those in the audience had to write their name, county of residence, title, and question on 3 by 5 cards that were passed out in order to speak. He said that gathering the names, county, and title of everyone was a requirement of the Lt. Governor’s office for the public meetings. We were supposed to hand the cards to Don Jarvis who was in the aisle, who then passed them to Ned Hill. Mr. Hill then shuffled the cards and would pick one randomly from the stack in his hands, giving that person 2 minutes to comment or question. At first, the questions were short; as the session went on, people started using more of their 2 minutes trying to convince the crowd of their view, asking a question at the end of their speech. I think Mr. Hill did a good job of randomly choosing—both sides were represented and there was a stretch where 4 or 5 opponents of the initiative in a row were called to speak. (Of course, his wife was called as the last question before the meeting adjourned. I 85% believe that was random.)

Here, I will also note that while Senator Bramble indeed yelled out questions more than once, he was singled out a bit unfairly in the Paul Rolly column last week. There had been one out-of-turn question from the audience during Ms. Jensen’s presentation while she was fiddling with the Powerpoint, and others yelled out questions besides Bramble. The incident Rolly recounts when Bramble was shouted down was the 2nd or 3rd question Bramble had yelled out, but immediately before, another guy seated in the window alcove a few feet from Bramble had yelled out a question and gotten a response. I do, however, think it is fair to ding Bramble for hypocrisy, having watched his debate with RaDene Hatfield last fall. There was one moment in their debate when Bramble made a statement about something the legislature had done well. I can’t remember what it was—something like they had budgeted well—but some true statement of accomplishment. RaDene Hatfield quietly burst out “That’s true,” and nodded. Maybe it wasn’t the perfect behavior while your opponent is speaking, but it was an innocuous statement and it was obvious Hatfield had no intention to expound further. Bramble, however, stopped mid-sentence, glared at Hatfield, and brusquely asked something like “Can I finish? Do you want my time?” He had an icy look and was obviously affronted. The comment was nothing and if Bramble had just continued speaking, no one would have recalled it 30 seconds later. So Bramble has a double-standard. It’s OK to purposely yell out if he disagrees with the content of a meeting, but an insignificant aside while he is speaking is a cause of great offense.

Back to Rolly, it was also obvious that he got his info from only one source. While unquestionably the majority of the interruptions came from the standing crowd in back, there was a fair amount of shouting out by both sides at the questions and answers. Many times, someone would stumble over a fact, both questioners and Janet Jensen while answering—stating the wrong number of people, mixing up the pool of commission candidates and the actual commissioners, leaving out facts about the pay, etc. The mistakes were mostly innocent I believe, but the opposing side in the room would shout out corrections as the person spoke. I was glad the clarifications were made on both sides—they were often things I was thinking too—but it was half rude, half just disorderly. It should be mentioned that the loudest loudmouth of those in favor of the initiative was semi-public figure, John Talcott. I had only ever seen his name online, where he is a very opinionated and brash and recently resorted to insulting the appearance of someone he disagreed with. (He was actually seated only one or two rows in front of that particular blogger, and I hoped they wouldn’t see each other. I didn’t notice any interaction.) He was wearing the nametag we were given and loudly yelled out several times. He would correct people, rudely shouted out when Senator Valentine approached the front of the room by invitation of Ned Hill, and was the loudest voice shouting at Bramble that he had to wait his turn like everybody else. He was not the only one, but he was the loudest, even though he frequently yelled out himself.

On to the questions. I caught many of the names of those who asked questions and will include them. I apologize in advance to anyone whose name I misspelled. I missed other names, and will probably leave off a few names of questioners whom I criticize. I want everyone to get a true picture of the tone of the meeting and questions, but I don’t think every individual signed up for the by-name criticism an elected official receives. (And the questions will necessarily be imperfectly summarized. As I know from experience, it is tough to ask a clear, coherent question in a large public setting, and many of the questioners stumbled, restated, etc. as they asked their questions. I tried to summarize it accurately and think I did a mostly good job.)

Jon Morris from Pleasant Grove – How do you think taking the campaign funds left over at the end of a campaign benefits candidates or increases the number of people wanting to run for office? If they lose the money, what incentive will they have to return and be involved and run again? Janet Jensen – They only forfeit that money after 5 yrs. They can run again anytime within the next 5 years and use the money. Who does the money go to if it’s taken? To the school fund or to the charity of the candidate’s choice.

Blair Bateman – The ethics commission is chosen from 20 names. Who chooses the 20 names and how are the 5 commissioners chosen from those 20? Janet Jensen – The 20 people must be legal citizens, live in utah, be at least 25 years old, demonstrate leadership and service, be capable of neutral decisions even if a member of a party, and cannot have been a lobbyist, politician, or party officer within the last 5 yrs. The 4 leaders of the legislature, the head Republican and Democrat of both the House and the Senate, must choose 20 names unanimously. (This is one of the spots where a speaker messed up and corrections were shouted out. Jensen had trouble naming who those 4 people were and was corrected by people in the crowd. It was disorderly, but helpful because she was being unclear. Many of these corrections didn’t have the rancorous tone some of the other shouted comments did.) The 5 names for the commission are drawn at random from the pool of 20 names agreed on by the legislative leaders. This is an incentive to get good people. Since the legislators can't insure their "toady" will be picked, they will choose honest, trustworthy people. If the legislative leadership cannot agree on candidates, the pool of 20 will be chosen by the 5 people helping organize this initiative called "czars" on that handout you received. (The legislative crowd in back laughed loudly at that.)

Bramble shouted out here “Who are the czars?” Janet Jensen stumbled over the names, but Karl Snow and others helped her out. They are Chase Peterson, Karl Snow, Cassia Dippo, Jordan Tanner, former Republican Utah House Representative, and Carol Petersen, former chief clerk of the Utah House. Some people in back said “They’re the ringleaders of this thing.”

Someone yelled out “What if they die?’ Janet Jensen answered that "Of course there is a replacement mechanism.” I had read the bill and wrote down that I thought that wasn’t true. It isn’t and Karl Snow corrected that statement later in the meeting.

OK, I’m sorry, but I’ve had less time then I thought I would. I will have to extend this once again to another post. The majority of the questions and answers are yet to come.


Friday, September 25, 2009

A collection of a few articles about the inadvertent gift ban passed by the legislature..."Accidental ethics reform is better than none"

The newspaper sites keep articles up for various lengths of time. I didn't save the text on some and they are gone. But I have the original links. I have other articles I saved and will paste in here. All underlining was added by me.

First - Articles discussing the original intent of the two ethics bills passed in the 2009 legislative session.

This empty link was a Standard Examiner editorial that I saved under the title "Standard Examiner editorial: Gift ban is a joke HB 246, Brad Dee defends "transparency", but didn't copy the text.

My bad. It is gone, but it looks like it was a good one. (I tracked it down on Weber County Forum as well, but the link there is dead too.)

I did save the excellent Tribune editorial though:

Meal ticket
Lobbyists keep lawmakers well-fed

Tribune Editorial
Updated: 04/15/2009 05:37:20 PM MDT

So far this year, state lawmakers have gobbled up $92,000 worth of meals, tickets, trinkets and other gifts from legislative lobbyists.

While golf courses and stadiums and concert halls are popular places to woo legislators -- lobbyists like to reserve big blocks of time to better ingratiate themselves with elected officials -- the most popular path to a lawmaker's heart runs through the stomach.

And, despite what has been hailed as reform, the kitchen won't be closing any time soon. It's safe to say that lawmakers' appetite for free food during the 2009 session far exceeded their appetite for meaty ethics reform.

Legislative leaders made big promises before convening, including -- gulp -- a gift ban bill.

House Speaker Dave Clark said he would back a proposal that would allow only nominal gifts worth $5 to $10, and meals offered at an event or proffered to the entire Legislature. But it appears that Clark and his compadres bit off more than they could chew.

Instead, lawmakers approved Senate Bill 156, which should have been titled the "Small Potatoes Act." It bans absolutely nothing, but does change the reporting requirements to make lobbyists reveal the recipients of tickets to all recreational and artistic events plus meals that cost $25 or more. Previously, the reporting threshold for meals was $50.

Theoretically, that would result in names being attached to a lot more gifts. (Of the $92,000 worth accepted so far this year, the recipients were only disclosed for $5,213 of the spending.) But more likely, lawmakers will alter their diets.

By lowering the reporting threshold for meals, lawmakers who don't have the stomach for owning up to these trysts have consigned themselves to moderately priced restaurants. No more linen tablecloths, silver spoons and crystal glasses. We expect there will be considerably more chicken and a lot less lobster bought by lobbyists starting next month.

SB156 sponsor Rep. Brad Dee, R-Washington Terrace, said his bill will add more transparency to the process, but defended the practice of lobbyists paying the tab.

"If someone wants to go and have a dinner with a lobbyist, that's fine," Dee said. We agree. But they should go Dutch. And if lawmakers don't want to pay their own way, and they still feel it's essential to hear what the lobbyists have to say, then why not meet at the office?

Holding a public office should entitle lawmakers to a salary and the right to represent the people who elected them. And nothing more. The Legislature needs to enact an absolute gift ban.

So the original intent was just to report gifts over $25, banning nothing. It looks like Brad Dee was the go-to quote for both editorials.

Second - Articles addressing the legislature's "Oops moment," or the fact that SB 156 actually contained language banning legislators from accepting any gifts worth more than $50.

The quotes in these articles are terribly revealing. You see both Republican and Democratic legislators publicly saying that they think the gift ban should be repealed. Ethics reform is strictly to be promised, never delivered. The D-News articles and KSL story are still up at the links; I'm pasting in the Tribune article and Standard Examiner editorial. Enjoy.

August 14, 2009 -

August 19, 2009 -

August 20, 2009 -
Lobbyists' gifts of primo tickets now taboo for lawmakers
Freebie limits » Some lawmakers surprised by $50 limit on entertainment

By Cathy Mckitrick

The Salt Lake Tribune
Updated: 08/20/2009 08:24:39 PM MDT

Some state lawmakers, surprised by the reach of a newly enacted lobbyist gift ban, already are giving reasons why the statute needs to be revised.

SB156, which overwhelmingly passed the House and Senate last March, limited lobbyist gifts and meals to those valued at $50 or less. That bans many Jazz tickets, pricey golf rounds and trips.

Senate Majority Leader Sheldon Killpack, in an interview with The Tribune this week, didn't say anything about repealing the gift ban. But he did tout the merits of addressing lobbyist gifts with disclosure rather than outright prohibitions.

"I personally am a believer in full disclosure. I think that's the way to go," Killpack said. "Once you get into a lot of the ban issues, it complicates things."

While many lawmakers in the Democratic minority support gift bans, at least one hopes to roll back the new law.

"It took me by surprise," said Sen. Brent Goodfellow, D-West Valley City. "I think it should change back to how it was."

Goodfellow, who served for years in the House before moving to the Senate, has in the past been one of the biggest recipients of premium court-side Jazz seats.

Some legislators have said the change was inadvertent, even accidental, and slipped through unnoticed by many. That's because the ban was enacted by a change in the definition what constituted a gift to include tickets to sporting, recreational and cultural events.

Rep. Brad Dee, R-Washington Terrace, who sponsored SB156 in the House, said the $50 gift cap -- including events -- was no secret.

"As legislators, we have to come to grips with that," Dee said. "I'm OK with us buying our own tickets and I can pay for my own golf."

The new law mandates disclosure of gifts over $10, a step that Dee believes should be taken even further.

"If there's a lobbyist who buys something for me, including a gift or ticket, it ought to be disclosed in any amount," Dee said. "Until we reach that point, I'm not sure if we're ever going to get it."

House Speaker David Clark said he would be fine with a limit lower than $50, but he believes his colleagues are honest.

"I don't think it's an integrity issue for the Legislature," Clark added. "It's a perception issue on the part of the public."

One lawmaker called the whole discussion "ridiculous," because ethics and gift-giving are personal matters.

"We're sitting here with mountains of problems -- immigration and unemployment -- and we're spending hours on ethics," said Sen. Chris Buttars, R-West Jordan. He was one of just two senators to vote against SB156.

"I said this is wrong, you're opening a Pandora's box and they're going to come after you for more," Buttars said of ethical reforms. "We're in a real mess now."

The debate rages for a reason, said Kirk Jowers, director of the University of Utah's Hinckley Institute of Politics.

"There will always be a great deal of tension with ethics reforms because it is the unique situation where individuals are forced to regulate themselves," Jowers said.

"While the public sees no disadvantage in pushing for ever-more stringent controls, lawmakers feel every miniscule restraint."


The Utah Legislature has debated lobbyist gifts for years, along the way killing any number of attempts to outlaw them.

For the most part, lawmakers have handled the issue by requiring disclosure of freebies over a certain dollar value. But year in and year out most gifts have been reported without identifying the beneficiary.

Under a new provision that some say was accidental and others insist was deliberate, gifts valued at more than $50 are banned.

August 25, 2009 -
Tuesday, August 25, 2009
OUR VIEW: A 'giant step' for ethics

Utah legislators may have thought they were taking a "baby step" forward with Senate Bill 156, legislation that was intended as a gift disclosure bill.

However, the bill, sponsored last year by State Sen. Greg Bell -- who will soon become Utah's new lieutenant governor -- contained wording that prohibited legislators from accepting "gifts" that are valued at more than $50.

We're pleased as punch that SB156 is law and we're more than happy to offer Utah legislators our congratulations for finally passing a gifts ethics bill that has more than baby teeth.

The gift ban should still be absolute but this is a great, "giant step" forward.

It effectively ends the disgusting practice of lawmakers accepting high-priced tickets to sporting events from lobbyists or meals from same at upper-tier restaurants. And they can forget about a round of golf at many courses. However, we know of a lot of low-budget golf courses. If lobbyists and lawmakers need a list, we'll provide one.

There's always bowling too. It's not too expensive at the alley and a game goes well with nachos and cheese and a soft drink.

Frankly, we've always been of the opinion that if lawmakers want to attend a Jazz game, or another sporting event, they should do what their constituents do -- pay for it.

There are still cheap-seat Utah Jazz and University of Utah hoops tickets that lawmakers can mooch from lobbyists, but they better be careful about how many refreshments they scarf; refreshments can be pricey at those venues.

Besides the gift ban, SB156 states that any sports ticket purchased by a lobbyist must include in a report the legislator for whom it was bought. Meals and beverages over $25 and other gifts over $10 also must list the lawmakers' names.

Our strong support for ethics is not an inference that lawmakers are dishonest. Rather it is the expectation that those who are honored to represent us behave in the highest ethical standard. No lawmaker should receive any gift or meal or ticket, etc. that the least of his constituents could not receive. If that mantra was followed, public opinion for elected officials would rise.

One more thing: We wouldn't put it past the Legislature to attempt to "correct" SB156 to restore the gifts legislators unwittingly lost. If that effort is made, shout in protest, readers, and then shout louder.

Part 2 of Utah County ethics initiative hearing: a little Karl Snow, a lot of Janet Jensen, and a dash of Craig Dennis

Back for more ethics reform rehash...

First, I want to add a note to my last post. I am glad the rude woman passed out literature opposing the initiative. I had already been contemplating whether to ask the lady in front of me who already had a copy if I could see hers. I think we all need the most information possible and I have constitutional concerns about the bill, though I am still processing much of what I heard last night and haven’t had time to do any research. I just strongly disagree with her interrupting a presentation blatantly and rudely. She could easily have passed out the information at the door after the meeting. Or if she felt it was important that those attending have those arguments during the meeting as the various points were discussed, she should have planned ahead and been there early enough to pass out the papers to the citizens as they arrived at the meeting. I stood at the check-in table for a few moments looking for all the information available and would have snatched up those bullet points. Disagreeing strongly with something and running late aren’t excuses to behave like a jerk.

Here’s the last bit of Karl Snow’s presentation, with some commentary in parentheses and links thrown in by me:

One man had $300,000+ of campaign money in a bank account. He donated liberally to other Republicans and became Speaker of the House for 2 terms. (This was Greg Curtis and Snow did not mention his name, or the fact that he was a brash, combative man, worked during and after holding office to use his influence to make sweetheart deals for his clients, and became a lucrative lobbyist for the tobacco industry among others as soon as he left office, causing even the entrenched GOP enough embarrassment to pass a 1-yr moratorium for departing legislators to work as lobbyists.)

There were over 30 ethics bills introduced, few made it out of committee, and those that passed had very little effect. (The only significant reform was unintentional.)

Is the current system working? The Standard Examiner, the Tribune, and the Deseret News have editorialized in favor of the initiative. That’s 3 major papers. He also mentioned KSL editorializing in favor of the initiative. (But failed to mention the editorial in favor with lukewarm caveats from the Daily Herald, which considering the rightwing tone of that editorial page ever since Obama's candidacy gathered steam last year, is the equivalent of a banner ad in favor of reform anywhere else.

We're widely acknowledged as one of the best managed states. Why should we not also be recognized as one of the most ethical?

Karl Snow then introduced the next presenter, and the person who answered most of the questions about the initiative text and legality as the meeting went on, Janet Jensen . She had a list of qualifications: law school, medical lawyer, some other stuff.

Janet Jensen’s remarks: She helped write the initiative. She said they sent the draft to constitutional law scholars at other universities and law schools to check if the law would pass constitutional muster. (She repeated this point several times during the meeting and included “deans of law schools” later, but never mentioned exactly which draft or which parts of this wide-ranging proposal the drafting group supposedly sent. She also never mentioned any of the actual people or schools they consulted. I’m left wondering if the entire proposal as it currently stands received wide approval.)

Democracy is hard work. The members of Utahns for Ethical Government all volunteer, no one has been paid a dime.

We support elected representatives doing their duty, but when unresponsive, the people act. We have seen that sadly the legislators respond more to people who give them money than ordinary citizens.

The legislature has raised the concern that the state will be overwhelmed by initiatives. (or “run by initiatives like California.” That is a quote from Senator Bramble at a citizen meeting a year ago speaking of just the voucher referendum and high bars for referendums and initiatives.) The concern is overblown.
Oregon has had 349 voter initiatives in its history.
Califonia 331
Utah has had only 20 voter initiatives in the history of the state.
(I’m assuming these numbers reference state-wide referendums, but I don’t know. County or municipal initiatives could be included in those numbers.)

Article 1, Section 1 of Utah State Constitution establishes 2 sources of legislative power—the legislature and with equal power, the people. ( I don’t know if I wrote that wrong or Jensen quoted it wrong--wouldn’t surprise me either way--, but I think she mixed up 2 separate relevant articles. Article 1, Section 2 of the Utah State Constitution refers to all political power being inherent in the people, and Article 6, Section 1 says what she explained, that legislative power is also specifically designated to the “people of the state of Utah” so that “the legal voters of the state of Utah” may “initiate any desired legislation” and pass it by a majority vote, as provided by statute—i.e. the signature requirements and deadlines imposed by the legislature.) This is fascinating to me. Initiatives and referendums are specifically designated in the state constitution.

You can read the whole initiative at
It has three basic parts:
Independent Ethics Commission
Legislative Code of Conduct, enforced by legislature
Outlines procedures to implement above

It is a non-partisan, neutral ethics commission. There will be 5 individuals in staggered terms on the commission. (Missed stuff here.) They are not paid. (I wrote in my notes here [per diem, not count?] I had read the bill and knew they receive the per diem. This came up later and showed some lack of preparation by Jensen and hypocrisy by legislators yelling from the back.)

(This is another part where I thought Jensen was fuzzy on specifics.) Jensen was addressing the concerns that any 3 people can bring charges to the ethics commission against a legislator.

What I heard was that under current statute--any one person may launch a criminal complaint against a legislator. Under the new process of complaint if the initiative were to pass, any 3 people could complain to the ethics commission, paying their own legal costs. (I didn’t get this. Currently, only 3 other members of the House or Senate can bring ethics charges to the current ethics committees. I suppose anyone can accuse a legislator of a crime, but that will be the same regardless of whether the initiative passes next year or not. I think she’s comparing apples to oranges. Right now only other legislators can bring ethics complaints to the committee; under the new law, any three people would be able to bring ethics charges to the commission. Anyone can file a criminal complaint against a legislator now; anyone will still be able to file a criminal complaint then. It seems this point is a very weak justification if any.)
The legislator complained of gets his/her legal fees paid. The commission merely makes a recommendation to the legislature. They can do what they want with the recommendation, even ignore it completely.

There will be mandatory ethics training. I am surprised at how many legislators don’t understand when they have a conflict of interest. (This is where Jensen inserted some snide jabs. This sarcastic side was often funny to me since I agreed with the jokes about campaign money, but it also came out in some rougher remarks during the back-and-forths in the Q&A session later. The angry remarks often made Jensen appear less sympathetic and sometimes condescending. My relative thought she just cracked a little under the hostile scrutiny and attention from the legislative buddies in the back as evidenced by her sarcasm increasing toward the end of the session after several opposing questions.) They don't understand ethics. They don’t always understand the law since they are not lawyers. They just don't understand. I shouldn't be surprised, but I am.

There will be no more personal use of campaign money allowed. Legislators will not be able to contribute to other campaigns w/ their own campaign funds. They cannot be lobbyists while serving or for 2 years after serving in office. There will be a complete gift ban, except for neglible refreshments at public events.

A legislator can ask for a written opinion or interpretation from the commission on a certain issue. This is commonly done in congress and other federal areas—these “safe harbor” letters make the congressman immune from prosecution if pursuing a course permitted by the commission via this letter. .

Legislators cannot threaten courts—we had a very public case of this recently—or interfere with them or members of state government. The legislature cannot accept donations from corporate, union, or non-profit organizations. Corporations have never been able to donate to federal campaigns. If money remaining in a legislator’s campaign account is not spent in 5 yrs, the money will revert to the school fund or to a non-profit charity of the legislator’s choice. The legislators must disclose conflicts of interest in much more detail than currently allowed. The disclosures will be available to public. File contributions w/ Lt. governor’s office. Legislators cannot be on corporate boards where they were hired just because of their position. (Many of these last points were explained more fully, but this is the gist.)

She then clicked through her powerpoint, repeating most of these points since she had forgotten to click on the applicable slides while speaking.

A guy sitting down asked a question while she fiddled with the powerpoint and she answered. This was before the formal, structured Q&A later. The man asked for clarification of when any ethics charges become public. The Executive Director of the commission vets initial complaints along with staff. This is not public. They don’t do discovery, research, subpoena, anything like that. It is informal inquiry to those involved and the accused is an informal participant. If the Executive Director finds that the charge has any basis, the charge goes before the full commission and is made public. The commission can subpoena documents and witnesses. The legislator is a full participant and can defend his/herself with lawyer of their choice. Cross examination and facing the accusers are part of this process. The hearing(s) of the commission where all this takes place is public. The deliberations of the 5 commissioners to make a decision are not public. However, when they decide, they must release written findings and recommendations which are public. They send these findings and recommendations to the legislature. The legislature can choose to hold their own hearings, debate, to investigate, reject, adopt, modify, etc. They can do whatever they want with the recommendation—it does not legally bind the legislature to a course of action. All these deliberations would be public too. (Though I don’t think that last assertion is correct. I believe the legislature could continue to hold closed hearings like the ethics hearings last year if they chose. The initiative would not bind them to open meetings like the commission would be.)

Craig Dennis, former publisher of Daily Herald, served on numerous editorial boards, member of Provo Rotary Club, on Board of Directors of United Way of Utah County, registered Republican, upstanding, forthright individual, etc. blah blah, then briefly endorsed the initiative. I think he was mainly there for name recognition and endorsement purposes.

Craig Dennis' remarks severely summarized: “Do the right thing and sign the petition.”

That’s all for tonight. I'm tired. I blame any typos on the legislature. I’ll get to the Q&A session which got contentious in a post this weekend.