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.