State agency won’t seek repayment on broadband project

A state agency will not see repayment on the defunct Idaho Education Network broadband project — despite a state Supreme Court order to do so.

Administration Department Director Robert Geddes has decided not to seek money from project vendors. And his decision will drop the issue into the lap of Attorney General Lawrence Wasden.

Rebecca Boone of the Associated Press first reported on Geddes’ decision Friday.

The repayment issue lingers in the wake of the Idaho Education Network demise — and the Supreme Court’s 5-0 ruling that declared the project’s contracts void. When the Supreme Court voided the contracts, upholding a District Court ruling, the court also ordered the state to seek its money back.

Under state law, agencies cannot advance vendors any money on an illegal contract. Ultimately, the state paid Education Networks of America and CenturyLink $29.7 million for work on installing a broadband system linking high schools across the state.

In a July 25 letter to Wasden, Geddes said he believed an “advance” involves money paid to a vendor before the start of a job. He said the payments to the vendors did not constitute an advance.

“I do not believe money was paid prior to services being provided under the state service contracts,” Geddes wrote. “When both contracts were determined to be void, the vendors continued to provide services to the state and public schools far past any periods for which the state was billed.”

The Supreme Court’s March 1 ruling clearly directed the state to seek its money back. The ruling gave Geddes’ Department of Administration the first shot — but not the only shot.

“If the appropriate state officer fails to perform this statutory obligation, the state’s chief legal officer can step forward to make the state whole for these unfortunate violations of state law,” Supreme Court Justice Jim Jones wrote in the March 1 ruling.

Wasden hasn’t yet figured out his next move.

“We’re still reviewing all of the legal options that we have,” spokesman Todd Dvorak said.

Further complicating the issue, ENA and CenturyLink believe the state owes them back payments for work on the Idaho Education Network project. Like the repayment issue, this aspect of the legal battle could have a multimillion-dollar impact on Idaho taxpayers.

Both vendors have filed tort claims against the state — a precursor to a possible lawsuit. In the waning days of the 2016 session, legislators earmarked $8 million for a possible settlement with ENA and CenturyLink.

Kevin Richert

Kevin Richert

Senior reporter and blogger Kevin Richert specializes in education politics and education policy. He has more than 30 years of experience in Idaho journalism. He is a frequent guest on "Idaho Reports" on Idaho Public Television and "Idaho Matters" on Boise State Public Radio. Follow Kevin on Twitter: @KevinRichert. He can be reached at [email protected]

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