Local Government

CANYON COUNTY — Canyon County Prosecuting Attorney John Bujak’s private trust account for Nampa prosecution work has led to a lawsuit asking Bujak to release records of the account.

Bujak said money in the account comes from a private contract between him and the city of Nampa and therefore the records are not public. But Nampa insurance agency owner Bob Henry said he filed the lawsuit in 3rd District Court Friday simply to find out how the prosecutor is spending those funds.

County commissioners agreed on the contract with Nampa last summer.

The contract is a private one between Bujak and Nampa, therefore its records are not public, Deputy Prosecuting Attorney Samuel Laugheed said in a letter denying a records request by the Idaho Press-Tribune.

The money paid by Nampa goes into Bujak’s private trust account. The money pays for salary increases for county prosecutors who work on the Nampa cases and other expenses. The contract states that Bujak and his chief deputy, Tim Fleming, do not get a salary increase for the work.

Nampa is paying Bujak $598,357 for this fiscal year, or $49,863 per month, for nonfelony prosecutions. If any money is left over from that payment it goes to the county, Bujak said.

“At this point I’m not even accusing him of anything,” Henry said. “It’s just, ‘Come on, guys, that’s a lot of money going out each month,’” and Henry wants to know how it’s spent.

But Bujak said Henry is acting as a “stalking horse” for the Nampa law firm Hamilton, Michaelson and Hilty, which lost the Nampa contract to Bujak. The firm also could lose the Caldwell prosecution contract to Bujak.

That’s another reason why Bujak does not want to release records about the Nampa contract — because it would interfere with his bid for the CaIdwell work.

Henry said his lawsuit has nothing to do with those issues. His attorneys are from Holland and Hart in Boise.

Idaho Supreme Court case law establishes Bujak’s right to contract for the Nampa prosecution work privately, Laugheed wrote in his response. He also cited a specific Idaho statute that gives prosecutors the authority to contract with any city in their jurisdictions to prosecute misdemeanors and infractions.

The contract first contained an agreement that Nampa would pay the county auditor, or clerk, the money. But it was amended so that the money would go to Bujak instead.

“This all piqued my interest because why would you change a contract from giving money to the auditor?” Henry said. “How is that beneficial to Canyon County?”

Bujak says the contract saves Nampa $100,000 a year compared to the next-best bid.

However, the county’s outside auditor, a Caldwell accounting firm, wrote a letter to commissioners last September questioning the arrangement and calling the contract “a serious departure from standard practices.”

County Commissioner Kathy Alder said she could not comment on the matter because it involves pending litigation. “We’ll just have to see how it plays out,” Alder said.

County communications officer Angie Sillonis released this statement about the contract: “The process that the county went through regarding this contract was done in a transparent, open manner and complies with state code.”

The only connection the county has to the contract, Bujak said, is that the commissioners have to approve it, which they did unanimously last June.

 

County clerk, opponent raise questions about contract

CANYON COUNTY — Canyon County’s clerk and the man running against him have called into question the Nampa city prosecution contract that pays money directly to Prosecutor John Bujak.

County Clerk Bill Hurst and Treasurer Tracie Lloyd wrote a letter to county commissioners last year saying that state code requires payments to the county go to the county treasurer before the money is disbursed.

In the letter they advised the county to consult with outside officials, including the Idaho Attorney General’s Office, about the issue. Hurst did not contact the Attorney General about the contract because he said he has no authority to do so.

Hurst and Lloyd’s letter stated in part, “safeguarding of public funds ... demands that the proceeds of this contract be deposited into the county coffers.”

But Lloyd said Friday she has since talked to Bujak about the matter and decided the amended contract is proper.

“At this point I’m OK with it,” Lloyd said. “The money’s coming into us and he assured me that according to the code he’s perfectly in his right to do that.”

In an e-mail statement Hurst’s opponent in Tuesday’s Republican primary, Chris Yamamoto, called the contract “fishy” on the surface. But he said with all the county and city officials involved in the agreement he believes it must be proper.

“It is hard for me to imagine that the Board of County Commissioners, (county prosecuting attorney), Nampa City Council and mayor of Nampa would knowingly engage in an activity contrary to state law,” Yamamoto wrote.

When informed of the lawsuit, Yamamoto said his first response was that the records should be released. But he said he had mixed feelings about the entire concept.

“If there’s any impropriety here let the cards fall where they may,” Yamamoto said. “I’m not saying that there is.”

One of Lloyd’s opponents in Tuesday’s Republican primary, Darryl Speiser, disagrees with the incumbent.

“Anything like that where money’s going into an account with one person’s name on it is very concerning to me,” Speiser said.

Dale Wheeler, another Republican candidate for treasurer, said he did not want to comment on the issue without having better knowledge of the matter. No Democrats are in the treasurer’s race.

Hurst said he would let his letter to commissioners represent his opinion. “I’ve already said what I needed to say about it,” Hurst said.

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