The Herbert administration continues to be drawn like a moth to the flame of the Utah County I-15 bid scandal, getting singed every time. It's as though, having once set it alight, the governor and his people are helpless to keep themselves from flying into it again and again. It would be farcical were it not for the $13 million it cost the state, the reputations it has needlessly tarnished and the poor judgment it has repeatedly placed on display.
The latest chapter centers on Denice Graham. The Utah Department of Transportation fired her in April 2011. It said she had leaked confidential information about the $1.1 billion contract to rebuild I-15 through Utah County. However, an administrative law judged ordered her reinstated.
In the meantime, she has been negotiating with UDOT over $67,000 in back pay. As a condition of receiving that settlement, UDOT Executive Director John Njord requested that she sign a letter asking Democrats to quit using her name and case to beat up politically on the Republican Herbert administration. Njord also wanted her to write in the letter that the judge had made a mistake in reinstating her.
Graham refused and went public.
Gov. Gary Herbert has distanced himself from the latest kerfuffle, his spokeswoman saying that the letter was UDOT's doing, and that when his office got wind of it, his general counsel ordered it quashed. Njord's communications underlings have pretty much laid the letter fiasco in his lap.
As near as we can tell, Njord believes this was a personnel matter that Graham should not have helped others make into a political issue. Democrat Peter Corroon used the scandal to bludgeon Herbert in the last governor's race, but how Njord could believe that Graham could help quell the scandal's political fallout is anybody's guess.
When a state agency botches a bidding process to the point that it has to pay the losing bidder $13 million, that's a political issue. When an executive department fails to notify the Legislature of the payout to the failed bidder, making legislative leaders furious, that's a political issue. When the governor, who has accepted $87,500 in campaign donations from the winning bid consortium, orders the state auditor to investigate, and the auditor concludes the bidding process was a mess, that's a political issue.
Now, after an administrative law judge orders the wrongfully dismissed employee reinstated, and her employer, who apparently can't accept the ruling, attempts to extract some sort of gag order from her as a condition of receiving her back pay, that, too, is a political issue.
Firing Njord also would be political. And appropriate.