State emails shed light on departure of Ybarra’s former spokesman

Superintendent of Public Instruction Sherri Ybarra did not know Dan Goicoechea was facing harassment and discrimination accusations when she hired him to a high-ranking position, according to an internal department email.

This email, along with hundreds of pages of documents Idaho Education News obtained through a public records request Friday afternoon, appear to shed more light on what Ybarra knew about Goicoechea, her former spokesman and deputy for government affairs.

Goicoechea resigned from Ybarra’s State Department of Education on Sept. 18, after just five weeks on the job. He resigned the same day a former colleague from a different state agency filed a tort claim with the state alleging a pattern of harassment and discrimination.

Until it released the batch of records Friday, the SDE had declined to comment on what Ybarra knew about Goicoechea’s work history, and when she learned of the tort claim.

Allison Westfall’s Sept. 20 email to the Idaho Attorney General’s Office (click on the email to enlarge it).

In a Sept. 20 email message to Deputy Attorney General Leslie Hayes, SDE communications director Allison Westfall wrote, “Superintendent Ybarra was made aware of the allegation Friday afternoon. She was not aware of it when (Goicoechea) was hired.”

The Friday afternoon in question was Sept. 15. Goicoechea was hired on Aug. 14.

Separate emails showed the Idaho attorney general’s office had alerted Goicoechea to the tort claim through a phone call and followup email on Sept. 14, four days before his resignation.

The SDE announced Goicoechea’s departure in a Sept. 19 news release, but did not mention the tort claim or allegations.

The allegations of harassment and discrimination stem from Goicoechea’s tenure at the Idaho state controller’s office, before he joined the SDE.

In her tort claim, former deputy legal counsel Lourdes Matsumoto accused Goicoechea of “remarking on their physical appearance, making vulgar sexual remarks in connection with their lack of abilities in the workplace and making sexual overtures, both directly and indirectly.”

The controller’s office has denied any wrongdoing. The controller’s office said it launched an internal investigation into the alleged behavior once Matsumoto complained to them July 14. As a result of the investigation, the State Controller’s Office said last month that it “separated Mr. Goicoechea’s employment with the SCO.”

Over the past two weeks, Goicoechea has not responded to several requests for comment from Idaho Education News.

On Sept. 20, Idaho Education News first asked SDE officials about what Ybarra knew about Goicoechea’s work history, and when Ybarra learned about the tort claim.

At the time, Westfall responded with two terse emails, saying only that “Superintendent Ybarra will not comment on a confidential personnel matter.”

The records released Friday suggest that Westfall was preparing a more detailed response. But when Westfall did respond to Idaho Education News, nearly an hour after emailing a deputy attorney general, she did not include any reference to what Ybarra knew or when.

Efforts to reach Westfall for comment Friday afternoon were not immediately successful.

Timeline

  • Aug. 14. Dan Goicoechea joins the State Department of Education as State Superintendent Sherri Ybarra’s deputy and spokesman.
  • Sept. 14: Deputy Attorney General Colleen Zahn alerts Goicoechea that he has been named in a tort claim, stemming from his time in the State Controller’s Office.
  • Sept. 15: Ybarra learns about the tort claim, according to an email SDE communications director Allison Westfall sent on Sept. 20.
  • Sept. 18: The Idaho Secretary of State’s Office receives notice of the tort claim at 9:32 a.m., according to a time-stamped copy of the claim. Goicoechea resigns from the SDE later that day.
  • Sept. 19: The SDE announces Goicoechea’s resignation.
  • Sept. 20: News of the tort claim and accusations against Goicoechea breaks in several media outlets, including the Idaho Statesman and Idaho Education News.

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