State Politics

2nd employee backs account of mismanagement under Idaho treasurer

Travis Schaat, left, and Chris Priest are two former state employees who were dismissed from the Idaho Treasurer’s Office. Priest is suing for wrongful dismissal.
Travis Schaat, left, and Chris Priest are two former state employees who were dismissed from the Idaho Treasurer’s Office. Priest is suing for wrongful dismissal. kjones@idahostatesman.com

A second former Treasurer’s Office investment officer is confirming details of a colleague’s wrongful termination claim, alleging at the same time that he was fired for refusing to doctor official meeting minutes to make Treasurer Ron Crane look good.

Travis Schaat worked in the office’s investment division for two and a half years before he was fired last November along with Chris Priest, a senior co-worker. Priest filed notice of claim on grounds that he was fired in retaliation for trying to address and correct office mismanagement and waste.

Schaat, a certified public accountant, found new employment soon after his dismissal and chose not to join Priest’s claim. But he supports Priest’s version of events. In a 13-page written account, a copy of which he provided to the Statesman, Schaat details “unethical practices” he observed, supporting his account with copies of emails he also provided to the paper.

“Idahoans need to know what is really happening at the Idaho State Treasurers Office,” Schaat writes.

Crane previously declined comment on Priest’s claim, citing personnel issues and the potential litigation. The Statesman sent him a copy of emails Schaat provided, but he again declined an interview because of the personnel issues involved.

‘I LIVE IN A POLITICAL ENVIRONMENT’

Schaat’s letter includes a timeline of his last six weeks in the Treasurer’s Office, from late September to November 2015. The timeline and emails detail the exchange he had with Crane and other staff regarding the finalizing of meeting minutes of the Investment Advisory Board.

The board was created in 2014 to help oversee the $4.6 billion in investments the Treasurer’s Office manages on behalf of state and local government entities. Its creation was one of the measures undertaken by the state Legislature in 2014 following a critical legislative audit of the treasurer’s investment practices. Schaat was the board’s secretary.

In the email exchange, Schaat had circulated draft minutes of the board’s July 2015 meeting to Crane and other staff to review. The emails show Crane sought changes to remove critical references and add flattering ones. Responding to his boss, Schaat disagreed with Crane’s request to strike one passage and add another.

The comment to be added, Schatt writes in his timeline, “wasn’t said and it wasn’t true.”

In their subsequent discussion of the suggested revisions, Crane told Schaat that the comment he wanted removed “could be taken as a negative comment by a member of the press or a political opponent.”

“I’m saying that I live in a political environment and have to deal with the consequences of what the record reflects,” he wrote Schaat.

Schaat responded: “I understand I work for an elected official, but I am uncomfortable trying to decipher what to document based on how it will affect the press or a political opponent,” and asked to be relieved of his secretary duties.

What followed, according to the emails and Schaat’s timeline, was discussion about switching to a much-abbreviated format for minutes and a redrafting of the July minutes. Then, Crane told Schaat to resubmit his original draft and add an agenda item to the board’s October meeting to discuss adopting the revised format. Beyond the actual content of the minutes, he told Schaat that his “concern is the way you handled this situation.”

NEW RULES

At the October meeting, the board decided to adopt different rules for meetings and “not have the meetings recorded,” Schaat writes in his account. Schaat had worked from recordings to prepare the minutes.

A few weeks later, in early November, all five investment division employees were put on notice. Only Schaat and Priest were fired. The others still work there.

Though Schaat has no claim pending, Crane declined to speak on the matter.

“I don’t comment on personnel issues and former employees — or their complaints,” he told the Statesman in an email.

Schaat, in an interview, said there “needs to be transparency and accountability for taxpayers surrounding these issues.”

“If you ask a large percentage of Idahoans who the state treasurer is or what the state treasurer does, they don’t know,” he said. “But the state treasurer is handing billions of taxpayer dollars. The decisions that are made under his realm are felt throughout the state and (by) the taxpayers.”

Priest filed his notice of claim on May 12. The state has 90 days to respond. After that, failing a response, Priest can proceed with a lawsuit.

Bill Dentzer: 208-377-6438, @IDSBillD

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