Elliot Werk at Capitol

Then-Sen. Elliot Werk, D-Boise, right, talks with Senate pages and interns at the Idaho Capitol in 2015.

BOISE — Idaho state Tax Commissioner Elliot Werk has been on paid administrative leave for a month, and no one will say why, other than that it’s a personnel issue.

“I can’t talk about it,” said Gov. Brad Little. “He was put on administrative leave through the system we have. … I don’t know what his status is.”

Werk is a former Democratic state senator from Boise who represented District 17 in the Idaho Senate from 2002 to February of 2015, when he resigned to accept an appointment from then-Gov. Butch Otter to be one of the state’s four tax commissioners, a full-time position that currently pays $99,077 a year.

Werk first won office after a campaign that included knocking on thousands of doors in his district; during his time in the Senate, he served as assistant minority leader.

State employees can be put on paid administrative leave for a variety of reasons, including for investigation related to a personnel issue, which can take a month or more.

“If something happened and there’s an accusation, everybody has a due process right, and that’s what’s taking place right now,” said Little.

Idaho Division of Human Resources Administrator Susan Buxton said under Idaho law, the appointing authority has authority to place a state employee on paid administrative leave. In some cases, that would be the agency head; in the case of the Tax Commission, it’s the governor.

“When administrative leave is granted by an appointing authority, anything over 30 days has to get DHR’s approval,” Buxton said. “It’s a personnel matter — that’s nothing that we comment about.”

Around the same time that Werk was placed on leave, former Tax Commission Chairman Ken Roberts was replaced after seven years in the post; Little appointed new Chairman Tom Harris, former president of Western States Equipment. Roberts didn’t return a reporter’s calls seeking comment. Werk also wouldn’t comment.

Asked about Werk’s status, Harris said, “I have no idea.”

“I just know I’ve never met him,” the new Tax Commission chairman said. “He’s been on leave since I got here.”

Harris started in his new post on May 8.

Idaho’s four state tax commissioners include Janet Moyle of Star, formerly a GOP state representative from Idaho Falls who was appointed in December of 2017; and Tom Katsilometes, a former Democratic Bannock County commissioner in Pocatello for 18 years before he was appointed to the commission in 2005.

Moyle said she has no idea why Werk is on leave. In his absence, she said, the other three commissioners have divided up the work and are getting by, she said.

Werk, 62, was an outspoken state senator who considered a run for the Boise City Council in 2011, but decided against it. He was born in Montreal, Quebec, and is a naturalized U.S. citizen who emigrated to the U.S. at the age of 7; he moved to Idaho in the late 1990s with his family. He holds a geology degree from Sonoma State University and has worked as an environmental consultant, small business owner, and engineering geologist.

He oversees sales and use taxes; and has management authority over the Audit Division and Information Technology. The Tax Commission’s website notes, “Although commissioners have primary responsibilities over certain areas, they provide backup coverage for each other when needed.”

Werk’s current term on the tax commission runs through March 8, 2021.

Betsy Z. Russell is the Boise bureau chief and state capitol reporter for the Idaho Press and Adams Publishing Group. Follow her on Twitter at @BetsyZRussell.

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