WestViews: Opinions on Nampa house lottery, state prison lawsuit

June 3, 2013 

NAMPA LOTTERY DIDN'T MAKE GRADE

Idaho Press-Tribune

The term "thinking outside the box" has become dated and cliche, but you have to admire anyone who is willing to toss around ideas considered out of the mainstream in an attempt to solve a problem - especially a $5 million problem that has left the Nampa School District in chaos.

But all ideas, be they traditional or unorthodox, have to fit within certain rules. That was something a Middleton man learned the hard way recently.

Philip Allaire, a former East Cost developer, planned to raffle off as many as 40 homes he was either purchasing or owned to raise money for cash-strapped Nampa schools. It was an intriguing plan, but one that apparently wasn't carefully vetted enough before it was unveiled to the public.

Allaire planned to renovate the homes, recoup his expenses through ticket sales and donate the rest to the district. The Idaho Lottery nixed that plan based on a legal stipulation involving ownership in Luna Property Trust LLC and the donation of property to his nonprofit, Enriched Endowments. In addition, raffles can't be held online, and dates for them must be set.

Call them legal technicalities, but the law is the law. And as noble a gesture as Allaire's was - helping the Nampa School District avoid at least some difficult budget cuts - he would have been wise to make sure he was within strict adherence to state and federal law before going public with his plan. Now almost 50 tickets will need to be refunded.

However, even if the lottery had been legal and allowed to go forward, it was far from certain that Nampa schools would have gotten millions of dollars from it. When you do the math, it was a very ambitious and optimistic proposal - especially given the population of the Treasure Valley.

A total of 2,500 tickets would have to be sold at $100 a piece for each house, and the plan called for as many as 40 homes. That works out to $250,000 in ticket sales for each home. For 40 houses, the totals would be 100,000 raffle tickets at $100 each - a grand total of $10 million in ticket sales. It's only fair to ask whether the local economy - even with some benevolent out-of-area investors thrown in - could have sustained such an ambitious plan.

Of course, it could have stopped after a few houses, and even a few hundred grand would have been a nice asset for the school district. But we'll never know. Good intentions are commendable, but they must be grounded in reality.

JEERS TO CCA

Post Register, Idaho Falls

The Corrections Corporation of America, the nation's leading private prison company, which happily accepts $29 million of your tax dollars annually to operate the Idaho Correctional Center near Boise, wanted to keep taxpayers in the dark about yet another lawsuit filed by those unlucky enough to be doing time there.

The latest suit centers on a claim made by eight inmates who say that in order to save money on staffing, CCA used prison gangs to maintain order.

Before he announced his retirement, former ICC Warden Tim Wengler - whose replacement will be the third warden at the prison in three years - signed an affidavit asking the courts to seal anything dealing with CCA's policies and procedures, employee and inmate information, as well as whatever the company might have discovered about a gang-related attack.

That attack, by the way, was captured on tape and showed gang members beating the plaintiffs for almost a minute before guards intervened. In defense of CCA, that can be seen as an improvement. In the last video that made the rounds, inmate Hanni Elabad was shown being beaten to the point of brain damage while a guard sat by and did nothing.

We probably ought to mention that CCA has admitted it billed Idaho for 4,800 hours of staff time its employees didn't work - essentially leaving key posts unmanned for long periods.

No wonder the company wants to seal the record. On the other hand, if the Idaho Correctional Center was operated by the state and not a private firm answerable only to its shareholders, much of that information would be public.

As we all know, this isn't CCA's first rodeo. An earlier class-action inmate lawsuit, filed by the American Civil Liberties Union, alleged CCA maximized profits by cutting back on staffing and programs. The company settled that suit.

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