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Credit: Larry Johnson, "Denver Skyline at Sunset," December 17, 2009

New West Daily Roundup for Jan. 11, 2016

Today in New West news: shareholders sue Chipotle, Idaho 2020’s mission for the Gem State, an update on former MT Lt. Gov. Angela McLean, and Utah’s coyote bounty system under fire.

Pity poor Denver-based Chipotle Mexican Grill Inc. They’ve gone from being one of the most beloved and lauded fast-food companies in the United States to a pariah purveying E. coli and norovirus to unsuspecting customers. We’ve previously reported on the troubles Chipotle is facing, but now, according to the Denver Business Journal and Reuters, there’s a new wrinkle in the scandal. Now Chipotle is the subject of a class-action civil lawsuit brought about by shareholder Susie Ong, alleging the company failed to inform investors that the company’s “quality controls were inadequate to safeguard consumer and employee health.” From the Denver Business Journal:

The suit was filed by New York law firm Pomerantz LLP, which specializes in bringing class actions, on behalf of investors who bought company shares between Feb. 4, 2015, and Tuesday of this week.

Chipotle declined to comment. The company previously was sued by people sickened by E. coli.

Word of the suit comes two days after Chipotle revealed that it has been subpoenaed in a U.S. government criminal investigation into one of its California restaurants that had experienced an isolated outbreak of norovirus.

The company this week also reported a 30 percent drop in year-over-year same-store sales and dampened its earnings outlook.

Chipotle says it has been tightening its food practices in response to the outbreaks.

Up north, select Idaho executives are hoping to affect the state’s economic development, which they regard as sluggish at best and behind the times at worst. Indeed, according to the Idaho Statesman, said executives have coalesced into one coalition: Idaho 2020, which hopes to spur economic growth in the state:

“Wouldn’t it be nice for our Legislature to be making decisions based on data and real hard information on what has been successful around us?” the group’s leader, Tommy Ahlquist, asks rhetorically. He is chief operating officer of Gardner Co., the Boise-based commercial real estate development firm that built the 8th & Main tower, bought the US Bank building and is building the adjacent City Center Plaza on The Grove.

Established in September, Idaho 2020’s leading members include Simplot CEO and President Bill Whitacre; Melaleuca founder and CEO Frank VanderSloot; Oppenheimer Companies CEO Skip Oppenheimer and Ball Ventures CEO Cortney Liddiard. The group hopes its research, data analysis and polling can drive a different kind of dialogue on Idaho taxes, economics and business development.

More than just entering the debate, they want to change its terms with data that help refocus the discussion. The motive is similar to Utah-based Zions Bank’s move last year to launch Idaho Politics Weekly, a news website and aggregator that conducts polling on statewide and national issues.

Political scientist Jim Weatherby said others have tried to create similar policy research organizations in Idaho, but those efforts failed, usually for lack of money. He thinks the power and prestige involved in Idaho 2020 could combat that.

“I’m delighted to see a group representing a broad spectrum of political thought in Idaho is taking on this challenge.”

At the forefront of Idaho 2020’s concerns is the seeming divide between the Legislature’s actions and urban renewal, which Ahlquist says has been a sticking point for decades.

We’ve been following former MT Lt. Gov. Angela McLean’s journey from state government to a new position in the Office of the Commissioner of High Education, motivated partly (it seems) by a deteriorating relationship with the governor’s office. In a new story through the Billings Gazette, McLean outlines her hopes and plans for the coming year to boost Montana’s educational system and help the Treasure State’s American Indian population get a leg up in K-12 and beyond:

Programs exist to help all students prepare for college, but American Indian students aren’t taking advantage of them. Only 2.2 percent of the 2,083 students who took dual-enrollment classes were Native, and those students on average took a half-credit less than non-minority students.

“We are dealing with folks who are first-generation college students, and there is not an understanding for a lot of our families for the pathway to postsecondary college education,” McLean said. “We can’t just assume all students know how to get there and their family does.”

She said she believes minority students across Montana don’t take advantage of these programs because of obstacles both real and perceived. That’s something she understands intimately from her own experience.

“Education and opportunities did not come easy for me,” she said. “I think we have populations of folks for whom educational opportunities and economic opportunities do not come easy.”
As a classroom teacher in Anaconda, McLean often used her high school experience to reach struggling kids.

“I get to share this with the students and say ‘Hey, I know where you’ve been. I know you have to go to work after school, I know you have to work on the weekends. But we need to make sure we find a pathway to success for you.’”

McLean established ties to American Indian communities during her time as lieutenant governor. She visited every reservation multiple times and met with tribal officials and college leaders. She’s proud of a legislative package she pushed that increased health care access on reservations, boosted tribal economies and education opportunities and promoted American Indian culture.

Over in Utah, the state is facing criticism for its coyote bounty program, although (the Salt Lake Tribune reports) it pulled in around 1,000 more bodies this year. The $50-per-coyote program has proven to be popular, with 8,192 coyotes shot between July 2014 and June 2015. Nonetheless, wildlife advocates day the program incentivizes a “trigger-happy” mindset that puts gray wolves in danger, due to their superficial similarities. Further: the state does not track the native coyote population, which makes it difficult to estimate the impact of the bounty program on the overall population, although hunting advocates note the program has helped fuel mule deer population growth.

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