The saga of the award and premature extension of a contract to build broadband Internet connections for Idaho public schools surfaced in bits and pieces during the just-ended session of the Legislature. It’s a saga that should have, but didn’t, raise hackles in our mono-partisan state.
In a bi-partisan state, the Legislature would have convened an investigative committee in the wake of an Idaho Su-preme Court decision that last year or-dered a lower court to reconsider invali-dating a state contract with Qwest, now CenturyLink, and Education Networks of America on the grounds that the contract was awarded in violation of state law.
Syringa Networks had sued the state alleging that Idaho Department of Ad-ministration Director Mike Gwartney, a close friend of Gov. Butch Otter, rigged the rules to cut Syringa out of the $60 million deal. The decision pointed a finger at Gwartney, who retired in 2010 shortly af-ter the lawsuit was filed.
Cut to January 2014 when Otter’s new Department of Administration Director Teresa Luna blindsided the Legislature when she announced that she had renewed the disputed contract for five more years—a year earlier than necessary. The unset-tled lawsuit and a separate federal exami-nation of the contract have left the state in danger of being forced to repay $13.3 mil-lion in federal funds for the project.
The Republican majority replaced $4.8 million of the federal funds that were withheld—with no guarantee Idaho will ever get the money back.
Where is the outrage? Where is Luna’s letter of resignation? Where is Otter’s apology? The state’s abused taxpayers are on the hook for this mess with nowhere to turn for accountability but the ballot box.