© 2010 Idaho Press-Tribune
CANYON COUNTY — Canyon County Prosecutor John Bujak has resigned after failing to pay the county $288,589 he owes for prosecution services for Nampa.
The money was due Thursday at the end of the county’s fiscal year. Payments for the contract went from Nampa directly to Bujak in a controversial arrangement that spawned an open-records lawsuit against Bujak and the county.
“(I)ssues in my personal life have become a significant distraction to my ability to perform the duties of prosecuting attorney,” Bujak said in his resignation letter to commissioners late Thursday.
Bujak gave Canyon County Clerk Bill Hurst a check for $71,000 Thursday, Hurst said. But Hurst said that check had not yet cleared the bank. Including the amount of that check, Bujak owes the county $359,589 for county resources used in non-felony prosecution for the city.
The contract was arranged so that Nampa would pay Bujak and the county would bill Bujak personally for county resources used to fulfill the contract. Some citizens objected to the arrangement, which also designated the contract’s financial records as private.
Bujak could not be reached for comment.
Chief Deputy Prosecuting Attorney Tim Fleming asked Latah Prosecuting Attorney Bill Thompson Friday to examine the situation. Fleming becomes the interim county prosecutor in Bujak’s absence until a new prosecutor is appointed in a few weeks.
Fleming said he did not consider the Bujak situation either a criminal or a civil matter at this point.
Commissioners said they notified the state Attorney General’s Office and other elected officials in the area.
Nampa’s payments to the county for the prosecution contract will now go directly to the county, Fleming said.
County commissioners authorized the private-contract arrangement for Bujak even though it drew criticism from some.
Commissioner David Ferdinand read a prepared statement about Bujak’s resignation Friday at the county courthouse with commissioners Steve Rule and Kathy Alder. He said the commissioners accepted Bujak’s resignation Friday morning and Bujak has said he will commit himself to making the payment to the county.
“We have retained outside counsel to ensure that happens,” Ferdinand said.
Bujak had told county commissioners in June that the Nampa contract would save the county $276,000 in fiscal year 2010, which ended Thursday. At the press conference, Ferdinand noted that despite the six-digit deficit, Bujak had paid the county $374,000 during the year.
Clerk raised concerns
County Clerk Bill Hurst had raised questions about the Nampa contract because the money went directly into a private account for Bujak. The annual contract first agreed on between county commissioners and the city in 2009 was for $598,357.
“When I was concerned about it of course like anything else in my whole tenure they (commissioners) just pooh-poohed it like it didn’t matter,” Hurst said. “Am I shedding any tears? No.
“The commissioners already knew he (Bujak) had some financial issues. The commissioners gave him a pass on it. Now we’re in this situation.”
In 2009 Bujak’s home was in foreclosure and he owed taxes as he earned an annual base salary of $101,608. Last summer he said an agreement had been reached on his house and the tax debt was satisfied. He has faced multiple civil lawsuits.
“I’m still behind on house payments,” Bujak said in June. “Slowly but surely I’m digging myself out of the mess.”
In Hurst’s letter to county commissioners in September 2009, he wrote, “The contract, state statute, and proper safeguarding of public funds all demand that the proceeds of this contract be deposited into the county coffers.”
When asked if county commissioners made a mistake approving the contract between Bujak and Nampa, Ferdinand said, “I’m not going to answer that.”
Critic of closed records reacts
Nampa businessman Bob Henry brought a lawsuit against former prosecutor John Bujak and Canyon County for the right to see financial records related to the Nampa prosecution contract. A judge ruled that Bujak was a private party in the contract and therefore the contract records were not public.
Henry said it never made sense that payments from Nampa for the contract went to Bujak privately and then were to be paid to the county.
“It stunk from the get go,” Henry said. He called for the resignation of the county’s three commissioners for approving the contract. He was not sure Friday how Bujak’s actions would effect his lawsuit, which has been appealed to the state Supreme Court
City officials want questions answered
The Nampa City Council will consider an amendment to its prosecution contract Monday, Mayor Tom Dale said. The amendment will specify that the contract will now be between the city and the Canyon County Prosecutor’s Office and not between the city and Bujak as an individual.
“The city did everything right,” regarding the contract, Dale said.
The mayor said the city followed the county’s direction in making payments directly to Bujak. And he said the city has been happy with the non-felony prosecution provided by the county.
“We just know John Bujak has a lot of questions he needs to answer,” Dale said, “and we’ll be pressing to get those answers.”
Nampa City Council President Pam White said she wanted to know more about what happened.
“With regard to the services that he was contracted to do and provide to the city of Nampa, he did that,” she said. “With regard to everything else, I probably have some questions, but I’m going to wait until I have an opportunity to speak to him. But to speak to the services he provided to the city, he did the work that was agreed to.”