ACHD

ACHD, Procecutor Disagree Over Website Use

Last fall, the Ada County Highway District used its official website to link to a private website advocating in favor of a ballot measure supporting passage of increased vehicle fees which exempting trucks over 8,000 lbs.

Several citizens complained to Ada County Prosecutor Jan Bennets who referred the matter to Grant Loebs, the Twin Falls County attorney who acted as special prosecutor. The allegations were investigated by an Ada County Sheriff’s detective on behalf of Loebs.

Allegations were centered around the use of public assets, staff, etc. to advocate on behalf of a ballot measure (the website link). There was also a complaint that ACHD staff had worked with the political action committee (PAC) with proofreading and other minor clerical acts.

SO WHAT HAPPENED?

Prosecutor Loebs spent nearly five months on the case and ultimately wrote a letter to the ACHD about “possible violations” of the “Integrity in Government Law.”

In the letter, Loebs said in part, “On July 26, 2018, Ada County Highway District Development Services Manager Gary Inselman-at the direction of General Counsel Steven Price-while engaged in his capacity with ACHD added language to and provided edits for the pro-Measure website, “citizens4bettertransportation.com.” The sole purpose of this website appears to have been to advocate for the Measure. I believe this violates the letter of 74-604 (1) and 74-604 (2), and certainly the spirit of the law…”

He went on to offer a deal which included admitting the civil violation and essentially promising to train the staff and not do it again. Bottom line, no fine, no trial.

ACHD through its attorney at Holland & Hart denied Loebs charges and refused in a letter to accept the offer outlined in his letter.

WHERE DOES IT STAND?

Loebs told the GUARDIAN he cannot justify a costly court battle which could reach the “tens of thousands of dollars,” when the ultimate penalty is a $200 civil fine. Citizens would have been forced to pay for the prosecution as well as the defense. He does not plan to prosecute the matter further.

Ltr frm Twin Falls Prosecutor re Possible ID Code Violations 040219

2019-04-12 ADBennett letter to Grant Loebs

EARLY GUARDIAN STORY ON THE TOPIC

Comments & Discussion

10 comments for “ACHD, Procecutor Disagree Over Website Use”

  1. When does the Ada County Prosecutor stand for election again?

    EDITOR NOTE–Loebs is Twin Falls prosecutor. He was appointed “special prosecutor” by Ada to avoid conflict with Ada County vs ACHD.

  2. They are guilty. If he found them guilty that is a start.

    They will certainly deny it but they still did it and they know it.

    Maybe the legislature should write some tougher laws. Maybe a $50,000 fine would get their attention. Likely they will do it again – sometime they seem to be like Boise City and just give the voters the finger.

  3. Tougher fine
    Jun 13, 2019, 11:00 am

    I think when the law was written it may have been harder to fork over $200, and public officials would not want to be embarrassed by the charges or conviction. If prosecutors won’t prosecute because a fine is too low, a fine is too low. Sheesh.

    Legislatively updating the fine is a good idea. $2000 per violation.

  4. Editor:

    I understand that Loebs was appointed by the Ada Co. prosecutor, whose exercise of prosecutorial discretion is a bit too discreet, especially when it comes to the behavior of other politicians.

    Once the farmed-out investigation is complete, it’s the local prosecutor’s baby. GBAD, ACHD, ISP, Team Dave—there are likely others—can do no wrong.

  5. Tougher Fine – ACHD was the first to cross the line on the brand new law. It went into effect July 1st and on July 23rd-26th is when the first discussion started between the PAC publicity firm and ACHD. So the legislature probably put the law and penalties there to say they had it, but make it pretty easy to pay the fine and remedy the issue. This is also true of the Open Meeting law which also has a weak fine/remedy for the violation.

    It makes you wonder how many violations are out there that will never get prosecuted. To spend lots in legal fees against some high power private attorney is not seen as fiscally responsible with taxpayers money. Basically this allows any politician or public official to flaunt the law without fear of major repercussions.

  6. j. williams
    Jun 14, 2019, 5:39 pm

    ACHD gets federal funds, therefore it is subject to the Federal Hatch Act.If an employee violates the act, the penalty provision in the Hatch Act, 5 U.S.C.S. § 1506(a), clearly gives the employer the choice of removing the employee in question “from his office or employment,” or forfeiting federal funds equal to two years’ pay at the rate or amount the employee was receiving at the time of the violation. Further, for 18 months after his removal from employment, federal funds also will be forfeited if the employee is appointed to an office or employment with a state or local agency within the same state. Why wasn’t this referred to the US Attorney’s Office? ACHD certainly would rather pay a $200 fine than remove the guilty party or forfeit two years of their wages. If it was the director, ACHD is looking at big money being withheld.

  7. Tougher fine
    Jun 14, 2019, 7:58 pm

    Can we ask that it be referred to the US Attorney? What Williams said. . .

  8. Why is it that we never hear that the Director of ACHD – – – Mr. Bruce Wong – – – NEVER has his name on ANYTHING?

    He must have a really good PR department or is not responsible for anything that goes on at ACHD. Would he not need to approve of the use of the website to promote how voters should vote?

  9. I would bet most of the commissioner were left out of the loop. And now I find out that there is another subject coming to light where the commissioners may have not been give all the facts. Instead of a $200 fine, this may of caused a few deaths. Stay tuned…..

  10. western guy
    Jun 19, 2019, 5:21 pm

    Bruce Wong, Bruse Wong… I remember that name.

    But I think he’s really a fictional character.

    Now, ACHD is only one of a hundred public agencies in SW Idaho where only the designated Mouthpiece says anything to anybody.

    Dave Bieter… Dave Bieter. Anyone actually seen him? No, only his Mouthpiece.

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