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Eye on Boise: Otter cautious about potential conflicts of interest

There was an odd moment late in last week’s Land Board meeting, when the board had gone through a consultant’s recommendations on how to better manage the state endowment’s land assets.

The recommendations include steps to bring more professional management to the endowment’s land investment portfolio. The consultant, Callan Associates, also recommends Idaho prudently divest its portfolio of commercial property; hire new staff at the state Department of Lands; and extend its contract with Callan Associates for four years at $145,000 a year.

As that last recommendation was presented, Gov. Butch Otter, who chairs the state Land Board, interrupted with this question: “Can you tell me if Callan Associates and any of its principals donated to any member of this board’s campaign?”

Janet Becker-Wold, the lead presenter of the consultant’s report who was on the phone for the meeting, responded, “I didn’t. Sally didn’t.” That referred to her co-author, Sally Haskins.

Idaho Secretary of State Ben Ysursa, who is retiring, said, “I know they didn’t give to my campaign, I’ll tell ya that.”

Otter asked Attorney General Lawrence Wasden if anyone who did receive such a donation would need to abstain from a vote on extending the consulting agreement. Wasden said not necessarily. “The procedure would be, give notice to the board of the potential conflict,” he said. “I’m not aware of any of ’em that have donated to my campaign – I’m just not that popular.”

State schools Superintendent Tom Luna said, “If there’s any question in anyone’s mind, then although it’s not required, there’s nothing preventing us from doing an RFP process. It takes longer, but if there’s any question, that would be a process that I think would be more than fair.”

Otter responded, “I apologize for not being able to tell you if a donation was made to my individual campaign. I don’t want to delay the process here, but at the same token, I think it should be of concern to each of us.”

Ysursa noted that the state already issued a request for proposals for the Callan consulting contract. Tongue in cheek, he said, “And I believe there was a plethora of candidates who submitted their proposals – we had one.”

At the board’s request, Betsie Kimbrough, election worker in the Idaho secretary of state’s office, checked the campaign finance donation records. “I don’t find them contributing to anybody,” she reported. “I searched the whole database for every candidate.”

Callan Associates is based in San Francisco, was formed as an employee-owned investment consulting firm in 1973, and now also has offices in Chicago, Denver, Atlanta and New Jersey. Ron Peyton of San Francisco is its chairman and CEO.

Cabin site auction plan approved

Plans for additional auctions of state endowment-owned cottage sites on Priest and Payette lakes won approval of the Land Board at its December meeting, calling for 60 lots a year to be auctioned for the next three years.

A random drawing, conducted by the Idaho Lottery, was made from among all those leasing lots who want their lots to go into the auctions. Priority order numbers were assigned to each lot, letting them know in which order each would come up for auction. At auction, the current lessees can bid on the land under their cabins, as can others; the vast majority so far have sold for the appraised value to the current lessee. So far, Idaho has auctioned off 31 cottage sites at Payette Lake and 59 at Priest Lake.

There were actually 278 lake lot lessees interested in auctions and issued numbers – 72 percent of the 385 state lots at the two lakes. Only 180 are scheduled for auction over the next three years. If a lot comes up for auction and the lessee isn’t ready to proceed, the next number on the list moves up. The proceeds from the auctions go largely to the state’s permanent endowment fund for schools.

Sandahl named state fire marshal

Knute Sandahl has been named Idaho’s new state fire marshal, replacing former Fire Marshal Mark Larson, who retired in October. “He brings a wealth of experience and industry knowledge to his new position, and I am confident that he will continue to do an outstanding job in his new role,” state Insurance Director Bill Deal said. Sandahl is currently the chief deputy fire marshal; he’s been with the state fire marshal’s office since 2006 and has had a 31-year career in fire safety.