If a candidate accuses his opponent of unethical conduct and goes so far as to use the serious word “graft,” the accuser should have a firm hand on the details. At least that’s my theory.
But after a Wednesday press conference when he released a statement charging Mayor Dave Bieter of using taxpayer money to hire his campaign consultant for a city contract, it became clear Jim Tibbs’ story was just that: a story.
“What we have seen here is why people don’t trust elected officials. This is a case of political payback and graft like I have never seen in Boise,” Tibbs, a member of the City Council, said Wednesday. “To have the Gallatin Group on Dave Bieter’s payroll and ask for $65,000 in a city contract on their behalf is outrageous — it doesn’t come close to passing the smell test.”
Tibbs pointed a finger at Bieter for “failing to disclose to the Council a business relationship with the Gallatin Group.”
But in a July 20 memo from the Mayor to the city council, Bieter not only did just that, he took himself out of the vote.
“As you may know, Gallatin’s president, Marc Johnson, is a member of my campaign finance committee. However, the project leader on this effort will be one of Gallatin’s principals, Lyn Darrington, whose efforts on behalf of the City of Boise during the last [legislative] session yielded concrete results, including identified funding for the community detox facility.”
“To avoid any appearance of conflict, I will recuse myself from participating in the decision whether to accept Gallatin’s proposal and leave it in the City Council’s hands.”
Several city council members were mightily miffed at Tibbs after yesterday’s press conference.
According to council president MaryAnn Jordan, Tibbs had stated at the July 24 meeting’s outset that he would have to leave early for a doctor’s appointment.
“That’s when he had not only the right, but the responsibility to say he had a problem with an issue for which he would miss the discussion, and it would have been moved to the next meeting’s agenda,” Jordan told New West. “That’s very common; we do it all the time.”
Minutes of the July 24 meeting show that Tibbs left the noon meeting at 1:25. The project was approved after that.
Jordan continued, “Also, at the following meeting on July 31, he had a legal right to ask for reconsideration of an issue from the previous meeting. Technically, only a member who voted with the majority has the right to request a do-over, but again, it is routine for that right to be granted to anyone. All that happens is that someone from the prevailing side makes a motion and there you go. He didn’t do that.”
“He didn’t even grant the voters the courtesy and responsibility of following standard procedure. He’s not new; he’s been there two years; he knows this stuff.”
The Idaho Statesman reports that Councilman Alan Shealy said, “This is a smart council. We don’t get duped very often. We didn’t make a mistake. We were fully apprised of all the potential conflicts of interest,” Shealy said. “Mr. Tibbs engineered a situation where he would be absent from the vote. In my opinion, he is being disingenuous in the way he is portraying this situation.”
Tibbs’ complaint to the Ethics Commission, which was established by Bieter to help clean up the scandal-scarred “mess in City Hall,” as Boiseans say, also claims that Bieter “failed to present the Council with alternative contracts or providers. In his letter to the Council, he directly recommended one and one only [sic] option – the Gallatin Group.”
Gallatin is a communications consulting firm with offices in four western states and Washington, D.C. The local office is headed by Marc Johnson, who was Governor Cecil Andrus’ chief of staff. The company was paid $4,280 by the Bieter for Mayor campaign in 2006.
The city contract with Gallatin is for mobilizing legislative, local leadership, and public support for a local-option tax to pay for mass transit. (The 2007 state legislature denied cities the right to use such taxes.) The contract states that Johnson will not manage the project for which the city has now hired his firm, but Tibbs claims that doesn’t matter and that Johnson “stands to profit at minimum indirectly if not directly from this contract.”
What Tibbs doesn’t say is what’s wrong with that. Businesses are entitled to make money, and this contract was approved after all procedures were followed – except by Tibbs – and all parties were officially made aware of Bieter’s relationship with the consulting firm.
At the press conference, I asked Tibbs, “Are you directly accusing the mayor of manipulating the council’s schedule so that you weren’t there for the vote?”
Tibbs was cautious. “That will be up to the Ethics Commission.”
Another reporter followed up: “You either are, or you aren’t accusing him, sir.”
Tibbs reviewed the purpose of the commission and declined to say yes or no.
Bieter said, “First of all, city government has never been more open and accountable. In fact, the very commission Mr. Tibbs is filing his complaint with is the ethics commission I started as part of my responsibility to clean up city hall and protect our citizens from even the hint of impropriety.
Second, let’s be very clear—this is about politics, not policy. It’s the cheap stunt, mudslinging approach of a candidate who either cannot or will not offer substantive positions on the issues.”
Earlier in the day, Bieter told New West, “Councilman Tibbs has yet to put forth any direct plans for city issues like air quality, growth planning, and transportation – things Boiseans tell us they’re concerned about.”
In a New West story from July 19, I wrote:
“Is there a compelling reason to fire the incumbent? The old political question which a challenger must answer, wasn’t. Tibbs has vague complaints about processes he doesn’t like and his view that leadership is going wrong, but voters make decisions based on results, not process. He doesn’t identify feature accomplishments in his career, letting Bieter have that one. He seems to have little in the way of explicit plans about what he’d do to improve Boise, choosing instead to showcase his Nice Guy status.”