State Politics

Idaho public schools chief was unaware of harassment allegations against aide

The Idaho Statehouse in Boise.
The Idaho Statehouse in Boise. Idaho Statesman file

The former chief aide to State Controller Brandon Woolf took a nearly 50 percent pay cut when he suddenly jumped in August to a job with the State Department of Education.

Sherri Ybarra, Idaho’s superintendent of public instruction, did not know about sexual and racial harassment claims against Dan Goicoechea when she hired him as her new deputy for governmental affairs.

That’s according to Idaho Education News, which cited an internal education department email obtained through a public records request.

Goicoechea left Ybarra’s office a month later, just as another former Controller’s Office employee filed a tort claim alleging that he displayed a wide range of improper and aggressive behavior..

Lourdes Matsumoto, a deputy legal counsel and executive assistant to Woolf, had first filed an internal complaint July 14 with Brian Benjamin, general counsel for that office.

Since the office’s general counsel reported to Goicoechea, Woolf hired a private law firm, Hawley Troxell, to investigate Matusmoto’s complaint.

After the investigation finished, Goicoechea — at the time the chief of staff, the No. 2 role in the office — was given the choice to resign. He did so on Friday, Aug. 11, and immediately went to work the following Monday at the State Department of Education.

Goicoechea’s Controller’s Office post paid $59.48 an hour. His new job paid $33.66 an hour, the Controller’s Office told the Statesman.

One month later, on Sept. 14, Matsumoto’s attorney, Lauren Scholnick, emailed the tort claim to the Idaho Attorney General’s and Secretary of State’s offices. That same day, the AG’s office alerted Goicoechea to the claim through a phone call and email, according to other emails obtained by Idaho Education News.

Ybarra learned of the allegations Sept. 15, according to an email from Allison Westfall, Ybarra’s communications director, to Leslie Hayes, a deputy attorney general. “She was not aware of it when (Goicoechea) was hired,” Westfall wrote, according to Idaho Education News.

Westfall sent the email Sept. 20, the day the Statesman first published the claims against Goicoechea.

A tort claim serves as the precursor to a lawsuit against a government agency. Idaho statute gives the state 90 days to respond to the claim, either affirming or denying it. The complainant cannot file a lawsuit unless the state denies the claim or the 90 days ends without a response.

The state had not formally responded to the claim as of late last week.

Goicoechea resigned his Department of Education post on Sept. 18. Both his resignations came because he did not want his bosses to be tarnished by the “false allegations,” his attorney, Rory Jones, told the Statesman late last month.

Jones said investigators hired by the Idaho State Controller’s Office did not conduct a complete investigation because they did not interview any witnesses who could rebut parts of the harassment claims.

Cynthia Sewell: 208-377-6428, @CynthiaSewell