ADVERTISEMENT
Advertise Here
Archive

Eye On Boise

Posts tagged: Pam Lowe

State files response to Pam Lowe motion

The state has filed its response to fired Idaho Transportation Director Pam Lowe’s motion for a federal court to rule in her favor on most of her key claims in her wrongful-firing case without holding further hearings. In a 23-page memorandum in opposition to Lowe’s motion, filed Thursday night just before a midnight deadline, attorney B. Newal Squyres argued that Lowe’s attorneys misconstrued a long string of cases they cited to back Lowe’s argument that she wasn’t an “at-will” employee. Squyres argued instead that she actually was an “at-will” employee who could be fired at any time, without cause and with no requirement for hearings or other due process.

At issue is an Idaho state law that says, “The director shall serve at the pleasure of the board and may be removed by the board for inefficiency, neglect of duty, malfeasance or nonfeasance in office.” The state contends the “at the pleasure of the board” part is the key part, and the listed reasons for dismissal are mere examples; Lowe argues that at least one of the listed reasons must be cited to fire an ITD director. Her attorneys submitted the Legislature’s original Statement of Purpose for the 1974 law, which states that the director “shall serve at the pleasure of the board and may be removed by the board only for stated cause.” Squyres, in his filing, dismissed that in a footnote as “a single page … with the handwritten notation of ‘S 1295’ at the bottom of the document.” You can read the full memorandum here, and click below for more on this story.

Lowe seeks partial judgment in wrongful firing case; says law’s on her side

Lawyers for fired Idaho Transportation Director Pam Lowe are pushing for a decision in her favor on most of her key claims without even holding further hearings - based on a long string of cases they’ve identified that back Lowe’s argument that she wasn’t an “at-will” employee, as the state contends in defending her firing. Among documents filed in the federal court case Monday was the official “Statement of Purpose” for the 1974 law that created the transportation director’s post. It states that the director “shall serve at the pleasure of the board and may be removed by the board only for stated cause.”

The law itself says, “The director shall serve at the pleasure of the board and may be removed by the board for inefficiency, neglect of duty, malfeasance or nonfeasance in office.” The state contends that those reasons are just examples, and the important part is “at the pleasure.” But in a motion for partial judgment filed Monday, Lowe’s attorneys say the history shows otherwise. “This statement of purpose … could not be a clearer indication of the legislature’s intent to limit the board’s discretion in removing the director only for good cause,” the lawyers argued in court documents. You can read my full story here at spokesman.com; and you can read Lowe’s motion here and the supporting memorandum here.

State responds to Pam Lowe’s lawsuit

Here’s a link to my full story at spokesman.com on the state’s response to fired ITD Director Pam Lowe’s wrongful-termination lawsuit. The state filed its response over the weekend; it was filed by Newal Squyres of the Boise law firm Holland & Hart, who is the current president of the Idaho State Bar. He’s been designated by the state as a special deputy attorney general to handle Lowe’s lawsuit, which charges political pressure, sex discrimination and more in her dismissal; she was ITD’s first female director.

State: Law’s four grounds for ITD director dismissal are mere ‘examples’

The state of Idaho contends that the four grounds for dismissal of the state’s transportation director listed in state law are mere “examples,” and the state can fire its transportation director for any reason or no reason at all. “Although the statute provides examples of reasons for which the Director ‘may be removed by the board,’ including inefficiency, neglect of duty, malfeasance or nonfeasance, these terms are not a limitation on the board’s authority and do not alter the fact that Plaintiff served ‘at the pleasure of the board,’ ” the state argues in its response to a wrongful-termination lawsuit filed in federal court by former Idaho Transportation Department Director Pam Lowe.

The law, Idaho Code 40-503, states, “The director shall serve at the pleasure of the board and may be removed by the board for inefficiency, neglect of duty, malfeasance or nonfeasance in office.” Legal experts told The Spokesman-Review in August that Idaho’s law is contradictory, but suggests the four grounds are the only reasons a director may be fired.

Lowe has alleged she was fired, despite positive performance reviews, for resisting pressure to favor a politically well-connected contractor who was a big contributor to Gov. Butch Otter, and was discriminated against for her gender; she was the department’s first female director. Her suit notes that the board decided to pay her male replacement $22,000 a year more than it paid her. The board didn’t cite any of the four statutory reasons in dismissing Lowe, instead saying her firing would “help the department continue improving customer service, economy of operations, accountability and our relations with the Legislature.” Click below to read more.

Lowe adds another claim to lawsuit

Former Idaho Transportation Director Pam Lowe, whose wrongful-termination lawsuit against the state is now pending in federal court, filed an amended claim today adding an additional “claim for relief” to her case, which already charged sex discrimination, political pressure, due process violations and more: That the state hired a male to replace her and decided to pay him $22,000 a year more. “By paying Plaintiff at a rate less than her male replacement for substantially equal work on a job requiring substantially equal skill, effort and responsibility under similar work conditions, Defendants violated the EPA (Equal Protection Act),” the claim states. “Because Defendants paid her less than it paid her male replacement, Ms. Lowe has suffered and will continue to suffer economic losses.”

Lowe charges she was fired for refusing to yield to pressure to favor a politically well-connected contractor, and also was discriminated against for her gender; she was the state’s first female transportation director. You can read her amended federal court claim here.

Lowe case moves up to federal court

Fired ITD Director Pam Lowe’s wrongful-termination lawsuit against the state is being removed to federal court, as a result of a move by the state of Idaho today. The state’s appointed special deputy attorney general for the case, attorney B. Newal Squyres of the firm Holland & Hart, filed the required notice today in state 4th District Court to move the case up to federal court. Squyres called the move “standard practice,” because the plaintiffs filed claims under federal law. The state had the option of either defending the case in 4th District Court or removing it to federal court.

Lowe, in her lawsuit, charges sex discrimination, political pressure and cronyism, and says she was fired without cause, despite positive performance reviews, for resisting pressure to favor a politically well-connected contractor. She was the department’s first female director. Her lawsuit alleges violations of her rights under both the state and federal constitutions.

Lowe’s attorney, Erika Birch, said, “We’re just anxious to get the case moving forward, whether it be in state court or federal court.”

Lowe: ‘Taxpayers need to know what’s going on’

Former Idaho Transportation Director Pam Lowe, in an interview with NPR Boise State Radio’s Don Wimberly, talked about her dispute with the state over her firing - a dispute that’s resulted in a wrongful-termination lawsuit - and her reasons for going public over the dispute. “I think the citizens and the taxpayers need to know what’s going on - that is my primary motivation,” Lowe told Wimberly. “I’ve been damaged, so they might as well at this point, they  might as well hear what happened. My reputation, when I was terminated or forced out, was damaged. So at this point I’m somewhat clearing my name by letting people know, hey, here’s what really was going on. Plus, the taxpayers just need to have a light shine on what’s going on behind the closed doors in our government.”

Lowe maintains she was fired for trying to cut back or eliminate a pricey state contract with a politically well-connected contractor. Her lawsuit also alleges sex discrimination and more; she was the department’s first female director. “At some point you have to do the right thing, and to me going public and letting people know what was happening and what is happening is the right thing to do,” she told Wimberly. You can listen to the full interview here.

ITD on why they’ll pay Ness so much more than Lowe…

ITD said today that the reason it’ll pay new Director Brian Ness $22,000 a year more than fired Director Pam Lowe is because it negotiated a salary designed to be a substantial increase from Ness’ current salary in Michigan, after accounting for higher costs of living he’ll face in Idaho. “Salary of the department’s director is negotiable,” said ITD spokesman Jeff Stratten. “Pam received promotional increases as her responsibility within the organization grew.” Lowe, whose wrongful termination lawsuit against the state alleges sex discrimination and other charges, made $143,000 a year; Ness will make $165,000. You can read my full story here at spokesman.com.

Whoops - actually it’s $22K more

ITD has corrected the salary figure it supplied to Eye on Boise late yesterday for new Idaho Transportation Director Brian Ness - it’s not $160,000 a year, it’s $165,000. That makes it $22,000 more than the salary paid to the previous director, Pam Lowe.

New ITD chief to be paid $17K more than Lowe

Idaho’s new state transportation director, Brian Ness, will be paid $160,000 a year, ITD reports. That’s $17,000 more a year than the salary of the previous director, Pam Lowe, who made $143,000.

McGee on new ITD director: ‘Excited we’re heading in a new direction’

Idaho Senate Transportation Chairman John McGee, R-Caldwell, had this to say on the appointment today of Michigan transportation official Brian Ness as Idaho’s new transportation director: “I’m excited that we’re heading in a new direction. I’m pleased to see that the process is over, the board has selected a director who seems to be very qualified for the position, and I look forward to working with that director on improving the infrastructure in the state of Idaho.”

McGee said he thinks it’s important that the new director has experience dealing with state legislators. “I think the job of an agency director, of any agency director, can be very complicated. I think having previous experience dealing with the legislature should suit him well in that position.” Asked if he’s still thinking of bringing back the bill he sponsored this year to turn the ITD director into a political appointee of the governor, rather than a professional appointed by the ITD board, McGee said, “I haven’t even thought about it. … I can’t tell you one way or the other. … I’ve been focused on the governor’s transportation task force and trying to come up with new ways to fund the roads that we have.”

Asked why he proposed the bill and then pulled it, McGee said, “Now we’re getting into issues that are being discussed in the lawsuit, and as much as I would like to say something about that topic, because it’s being adjudicated and that’s been referenced in the lawsuit, it’d be inappropriate for me to talk about.” McGee said he has “a lot” to say on that subject, but can’t now because of the court case. Former ITD Director Pam Lowe charges in her wrongful firing lawsuit against the state that ITD board members made a deal with McGee to fire her in exchange for his dropping the bill.

Otter’s statement on Pam Lowe firing

Yesterday, in response to a request from the Lewiston Morning Tribune, which has been editorializing against Gov. Butch Otter’s silence on the firing of former Transportation Director Pam Lowe and her wrongful-termination lawsuit against the state, Otter issued the following statement:

“I support the decision of the board to remove the former director and go in another direction. The issue over the past legislative session became Pam and ITD, instead of fixing ailing roads and bridges and addressing the backlog of projects to keep Idaho’s roads safe. Over the course of three years Pam never once raised concerns about the contract with me. In the end, despite her claims, Pam was ineffective and lost the faith and confidence of the board, my office and many in the legislature. Our highways and bridges are critical to Idaho. Now more than ever, we need a leader at ITD who can work with the legislature and board to successfully address our infrastructure needs today and into the future.”

Pam Lowe files sex-bias suit against state

Idaho’s first-ever female transportation director was fired, in part, simply for being a woman, a lawsuit filed today charges. Pam Lowe, who last week filed a “whistleblower” complaint against the state alleging that she was fired for resisting political pressure to favor a big campaign donor to Gov. Butch Otter, filed an amended complaint today bringing in six additional claims for violating her rights under both the U.S. and Idaho constitutions.

“Her gender was specifically referenced as a reason that she should not be promoted and/or that she would not be successful,” the lawsuit states. “Ms. Lowe’s gender was a contributing factor to the board’s decision to terminate her employment, in violation of the equal protection clause of the United States Constitution.” Lowe’s legal filing in 4th District Court in Boise repeats her earlier allegation that Idaho Transportation Board member Gary Blick of Twin Falls said “no little girl would be able to run this department, or words to that effect” and asked, “What are we going to do when she decides to start a family?” But Lowe, a professional engineer and 15-year department employee, said that wasn’t the only instance of gender discrimination she suffered at the department. “I have some other information that I think will probably come out as part of the trial process,” she told The Spokesman-Review.

Lowe’s six additional claims charge that the state Transportation Board violated both the U.S. and the Idaho state constitutions in three different ways: By engaging in sex discrimination, violating her right to equal protection; by firing her without citing any of the statutory reasons why a transportation director can be fired and without allowing her a hearing, violating her right to due process; and by impugning her good name with “false allegations of unsatisfactory job performance,” hurting her professional reputation and “foreclosing other employment opportunities.” You can read my full story here at spokesman.com, and read her amended complaint here.

The 90 days has run out…

When fired ITD Director Pam Lowe filed her initial lawsuit against the state, contending she was fired in part for resisting political pressure against cutting a contract with a big campaign donor to Gov. Butch Otter, there were still a few days left for the state to respond and seek to settle Lowe’s tort claim, which also alleged wrongful firing, sexual discrimination and more. Now, the full 90 days has run out, and there’s been no settlement. That frees Lowe to file an amended complaint in her lawsuit, bringing in all her claims from the tort claim. Kit Coffin, risk management program director for the state, reported that the full 90 days has run, and there has been no change in the status of Lowe’s claim against the state. “Statute allows claimants to deem a claim rejected if there has been no decision within 90 days,” Coffin wrote in an email. “Claimants may file suit after that time.  It is not necessary to do so immediately, but they have the right to proceed if they wish. If a suit is filed and served, the state will respond according to the laws and rules applicable to such lawsuits.”

Complaint: Fired director was ‘excellent manager’ with ‘exceptional ability’

Here’s a link to former ITD Director Pam Lowe’s whistleblower complaint filed in 4th District Court today, in her wrongful firing lawsuit against the state. The complaint includes this quote from Lowe’s last performance evaluation: “Mrs. Lowe has quickly taken charge of the Department. She excelled in reviewing the conditions of the department’s functions and making needed changes in personnel, functions, and organization. … She identified over $50 million in savings that will be directed to improved highway operations. Mrs. Lowe is an excellent manager and has exceptional ability as a professional engineer. In this rating period she has completed all assignments made by the Transportation Board.”

Pam Lowe: No choice but to sue

Fired Idaho Transportation Director Pam Lowe is suing the state, after it never responded to her wrongful firing tort claim alleging sex discrimination, political cronyism and more. Her legal complaint includes explosive new allegations about political pressure, which the head of the Idaho Transportation Board immediately disputed. “I filed that tort claim in good conscience and in good faith, looking for answers and looking for resolution,” Lowe told The Spokesman-Review, “and was disappointed that they chose not to respond in any way, at least yet. And I’m left with no choice but to file this lawsuit.” You can read my full story here at spokesman.com.

Newspaper: Otter should have more direct oversight of ITD

The Twin Falls Times-News, in an editorial today, called for Idaho’s governor to be given direct oversight of the state’s transportation director, reversing a stand the paper’s editorial page had taken for years that the agency’s independence should be preserved in the interest of avoiding politics. Senate Transportation Chairman John McGee, R-Caldwell, proposed legislation this year to give the governor the power to hire and fire the ITD director, but it didn’t advance; that power is now held by the state Transportation Board, whose firing of Director Pam Lowe has brought the state a scathing tort claim and the prospect of a lawsuit.

Meanwhile, Gov. Butch Otter’s transportation and education adviser, Clete Edmunson, is leaving for a position in the state Department of Labor. Edmunson led Otter’s failed efforts this year and last to convince lawmakers to raise the gas tax and registration fees to fund more road work in the state. Click below to read an email from Otter chief of staff Jason Kreizenbeck informing state agency directors of the move.

Most state tort claims are denied

Here’s what happens with most tort claims against the state, though the one filed by fired ITD Director Pam Lowe is hardly run-of-the-mill: Idaho’s risk management office, in response to a public records request, reported that the state received 1,867 such claims in the last three years. Of those, 1,025 were denied, 530 were paid, and 21 resulted in judgments in favor of the state, while 286 are still open or in court.

More than half of Idaho’s claims are submitted by prison inmates, often about minor issues. In one recent one, for example, an inmate complained his constitutional rights had been violated because he wasn’t given scotch tape he’d requested. Tort claims give the state 90 days to respond, either by paying up and settling the claim, or denying it and freeing the filer to head to court. Claims not responded to within 90 days are automatically considered denied.

Murky Idaho law boosts Lowe’s wrongful-firing case, experts say

Legal experts say ousted Idaho Transportation Director Pam Lowe has grounds to dispute her firing, not necessarily because of her explosive allegations about sex discrimination and political pressure, but because of an unclear Idaho law. The dispute also threatens to embarrass a governor who’s up for re-election, and it’s already provided an opening for the state’s minority party to declare his administration corrupt. You can read my full story here in Sunday’s Spokesman-Review.

Controversial multimillion-dollar contract at center of ITD firing dispute

Fired ITD Director Pam Lowe says in her wrongful-firing tort claim that she was ousted just as she prepared to cut back or eliminate a multimillion-dollar contract with a politically well-connected firm, after strong pressure from the governor’s office not to do it. But the Legislature actually directed her to do just that - she was following the law. Lawmakers wanted to save money. The directive was included in “legislative intent language,” a type of strings attached to the department’s budget that has the full force of law. It first was imposed in 2007; you can read my full story here at spokesman.com, including Lowe’s account, in her tort claim, of how Jeff Malmen, then chief of staff for Gov. Butch Otter, called her on the carpet over her plan.

“The desire expressed by the budget committee was to try to bring as much work as possible in-house to reduce costs,” said Sen. Shawn Keough, R-Sandpoint, vice-chairwoman of the Legislature’s Joint Finance-Appropriations Committee. “Where we could put more money on the roads, it makes sense to me to do that. … It just seemed that if we had the capacity within ITD to do the work in-house, that we should do that.”

The management contract has been controversial from the start. Washington Group is a generous funder of Idaho political campaigns, and, as Lowe’s tort claim noted, a significant contributor to the campaigns of both Gov. Butch Otter and Idaho Senate Transportation Chairman John McGee, R-Caldwell. According to state campaign finance records, Otter has received $21,000 in contributions from Washington Group since 2005, and $1,000 from CH2M Hill. McGee received $1,500 from Washington Group. In addition, top executives from both firms gave Otter another $11,500 and McGee another $900, according to state records.

The consortium, dubbed “Connecting Idaho Partners,” won the giant contract in 2005 only after a big fight. An ITD evaluation team unanimously selected the competing bidder, New York-based Parsons Brinckerhoff and HDR Engineering. The New York firm had handled similar state highway programs for numerous other states. But the ITD board voted 4-1 to pick the local bidder instead, with only the late Bruce Sweeney, who died last week, dissenting. Parsons Brinckerhoff sued and the Federal Highway Administration warned Idaho that local preference can’t be considered under federal contract rules. ITD redid the bidding process, and again awarded the contract to the same firms.

Then-Gov. Dirk Kempthorne, too, was a recipient of significant campaign donations from Washington Group, which gave more than $18,000 to his re-election campaigns and $10,000 to the Idaho Republican Party. Kempthorne’s staffer who handled the issue, Lance Giles, later worked as a registered lobbyist for the firm, and his former chief of staff, Phil Reberger, was one of Washington Group’s paid consultants on the project. When the contract first was signed, then-ITD Board Chairman Frank Bruneel decried its size and said it should be scaled back. “That would be very disappointing to me if we spent that kind of money,” Bruneel said then. “We have manpower to provide a lot of these services, and it’ll be the board’s policy and intention to do those things in-house where we have the resources available.”

Get blog updates by email

About this blog

Betsy Z. Russell covers Idaho news from The Spokesman-Review's bureau in Boise.

Named best state-based political blog in Idaho for 2013 by The Fix

Latest comments »

Read all the posts from recent conversations on Eye On Boise.

Search this blog
Subscribe to this blog
ADVERTISEMENT
Advertise Here