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Taxpayers paid former Bieter aide more than $40,000 after about 23 days of work

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An aide to former Boise Mayor Dave Bieter who worked a short time after December’s runoff took home significant compensation in a short period.

As BoiseDev first reported, the day after the runoff election, Bieter rehired his intergovernmental affairs aide Amber Pence. Pence left the city in May of 2019 to join Bieter’s political campaign for mayor as chief fundraiser.

[McLean says she’ll appoint herself to CCDC commission if Bieter doesn’t step off]

Pence worked for the City of Boise from Wednesday, December 4, 2019, through Tuesday, January 7, 2020. According to public records and a BoiseDev analysis of payroll records, Pence earned more than $41,000 after working about 23 days.

BoiseDev asked for payout records for any employees who received severance in December or January. Four employees – all members of the mayor’s office, got severance from the city. Former Communications Director Mike Journee, former administrative assistant Tracy Hall-Johnson and former Constituent Services Coordinator Jeffrey Janis each received a package, in addition to Pence.

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[See the public record outlining severance payments]

Pence received the second-highest amount, $28,314, according to the record. The city also paid her $359.92 for a floating holiday, $303.93 for vacation time and $3,315 for a benefit distribution.

According to reporting from James Dawson at Boise State Public Radio, Pence resigned from the City of Boise at the end of May of 2019.

A city spokesperson said they calculate severance by the length of service to the city. If an employee leaves city employment and comes back, HR managers count both stints for purposes of calculating the severance. However, Pence’s eligibility for the severance stemmed from her short term rehire after Bieter lost the runoff. According to the city, Pence and the other employees resigned before Bieter left office, leaving the severance decisions to his discretion.

The City also paid Pence for hours worked during the 23 working days and two paid holidays. Based on her hourly rate of $43.99 per hour, that would net an additional $8,798.

All together, her total of known compensation paid by taxpayers is $41,083.86.

No transition briefing

When we asked Bieter’s then-spokesperson about Pence’s rehiring in December, he defended the practice.

“With the legislative session just around the corner, Amber needed to come back to ensure issues important to the city and its residents are cued up and don’t get overlooked during the coming mayoral transition,” Journee said on December 12.

Pence’s position went unfilled while she worked on Bieter’s campaign.

Current Boise Mayor Lauren McLean said no transitional meeting or briefing happened.

“As I said in December, I was surprised by the former mayor’s decision on this rehire, but it was his and his alone,” McLean said. “This instance of a short-term rehire and payout is outside the norm of standard operating procedure at the City of Boise, and it’s not a choice I would make.”

Bieter changes story on Pence

When asked about Pence’s compensation by BoiseDev, Bieter replied by email. 

“She was hired in 2013,” he wrote. “To be especially careful to avoid a conflict, she took the equivalent of leave without pay to work on my campaign, after which she returned to the city. She was then granted a severance as per city policy based on her many years of service. “

But Pence did not take a leave of absence. Bieter himself explained it last summer on Boise State Public Radio. 

“[Pence had] left the city, she’d resigned. We wanted it clean that way and really, that’s it,” Bieter told George Prentice. 

In addition, Journee confirmed to BoiseDev in December that Bieter “hired back” Pence.

Severance defended

Bieter defended the use of severance. 

“I am a supporter of treating workers with respect. When an employee is asked to leave employment without cause, as was the case for several employees during the Great Recession, and a few employees in this transition, it is the right thing to do to give them severance based on years of service,” he wrote. 

Pence and the other three employees resigned before the mayoral transition took place, which gave Bieter the option of offering her severance. 

“The city’s severance policy appears to continue under Lauren McLean,” Bieter write. “She recently removed a mayor’s office employee and granted severance in line with that policy. “

A spokesperson for Mayor McLean confirms she removed an additional staffer recently, but unlike Pence, the employee did not have a recent gap in service. 

“I’m hopeful that policy continues in the City of Boise,” Bieter said. 

Ethics, state law

While there does not appear to be anything illegal about Bieter’s decision to rehire Pence, it stands in contrast to Bieter’s original campaign on ethics in city hall. Bieter gained election in the wake of the resignation of Brent Coles. Coles resigned office and spent time in prison after using public funds to give aides in his office trips and tickets to Broadway plays.

Last year, the Idaho legislature considered a law that would bar all taxpayer-funded severance, according to the Idaho Press. Idaho law doesn’t allow state agencies to give severance, but local governments, counties and school districts still can. The bill passed committee in the House, but later died.

Pence is now the Idaho state director for the Mike Bloomberg campaign.

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