BOISE -- A Boise whistleblower is claiming there are potential improprieties and deception by the city in its involvement with an organization formed to promote the F-35 fighter jet program coming to Gowen Field.
After reading recent articles in the Boise Guardian about Gowen Strong, Inc. operating as a non-profit, we wanted to pursue this story further. We spoke with the City of Boise and the Boise Guardian's editor about the claim that city staff and assets were used or loaned for a private nonprofit corporation, which would violate the public purpose doctrine.
KTVB wants to be completely transparent and note that we are still investigating this situation and digging through public records we've received.
The Boise Guardian published an article on Thursday (http://boiseguardian.com/2017/06/01/gowen-strong-inc-f-35-advocates-dissolved/) about a nonprofit called Gowen Strong, Inc. dissolving after posting an article in early May alleging city staff and resources were being used to run it (http://boiseguardian.com/2017/05/08/gowen-strong-is-private-non-profit/).
"The issue altogether is using the public resources for a private operation for a private entity," Boise Guardian editor Dave Frazier said. "And I contend that Gowen Strong is a private entity. It was registered as a private nonprofit with the secretary of the state of the state of Idaho."
Public records KTVB was provided show the secretary of state's office gave the stamp of approval for the nonprofit in early January 2017. The purpose for the corporation is to educate the community about the role and importance of the Idaho National Guard. Part of the conflict lies in the registering agent, Frazier says - Boise Airport Director Rebecca Hupp.
The Boise City Ethics Commission waived conflict of interest and approved Hupp to sit on the independent nonprofit corporation. The Boise City Council also passed a resolution approving her involvement in creating and serving on the board of directors.
Records show the three directors of Gowen Strong, Inc. authorized the dissolution of the nonprofit on February 10, 2017, but it wasn't effective with the secretary of state's office until May 17.
"Until the secretary of state got it, they weren't dissolved," Frazier contended.
"It never operated as a nonprofit, it never collected money as a nonprofit, it never had any financing as a nonprofit," City of Boise spokesman Mike Journee told KTVB.
Gowen Strong has been operating for several months and continues to operate as an informal coalition between supporting agencies, Journee says. It is a partnership between the City of Boise, Idaho Commerce, Boise Metro Chamber of Commerce and Boise Valley Economic Partnership "to support the preservation of military resources in Boise and favorably position the Idaho National Guard and Gowen Field for future changes and potential expansion."
Journee says there are city employees working on its behalf because the city of Boise supports creating that mission at Gowen Field.
"The cCity of Boise is involved in a lot of efforts in order to better our city and to create the most livable city in the country and good paying jobs is a part of that," Journee added. "Just like we would support the Chamber of Commerce, just like we work to support the nonprofits that support the homeless in our community, just like we work with the school district to provide good education... We do the same with the Idaho Air National Guard and members that serve out there."
Journee says the group decided to pursue the nonprofit route to try to raise money for the effort.
"There was discussion about that and even paperwork filed with the State of Idaho and there was a state incorporation of Gowen Strong as a nonprofit at that point. But the final step was never taken with the federal request to create 501(c)(3) status, which would allow a nonprofit to basically operate as a nonprofit and bring in money," Journee added.
"Funds have nothing to do with it," Frazier said, "they were advocating for a specific private issue."
He says the coalition decided against operating as a nonprofit because the partnership was working well already and if they did go that route, the city would have had to step away and not be a part of it.
"We wanted to stay close to the process, we wanted to stay close to the Gowen Strong ethic and to those supporters," Journee said.
But Frazier says he does believe public money - in the form of city employees, time and resources - was being used while Gowen Strong, Inc. was a nonprofit - which is against Article VIII Section 4 of the Idaho State Constitution. That clause states "no county, city, town, township, board of education, or school district, or other subdivision, shall lend, or pledge the credit or faith thereof directly or indirectly, in any manner, to, or in aid of any individual, association or corporation, for any amount or for any purpose whatever, or become responsible for any debt, contract or liability of any individual, association or corporation in or out of this state."
We asked Journee if he considers it illegal for the city to be behind a nonprofit. He responded saying, "It would not be appropriate for city employees to be part of [or] to be working for a nonprofit on city time... [and] using city resources."
Frazier says he doesn't buy the city's argument.
"I think their purpose is to convince the public to accept having F-35's come to Boise," Frazier added, "the city is trying to sway public opinion, to manipulate the perceptions of F-35's and noise issues and everything that goes along with it."
While the Gowen Strong partnership, Gov. Butch Otter, local mayors, Idaho's congressional delegation, and dozens of local businesses support the potential F-35 mission, Frazier argues that advocating for it is not in the best interest of all Boiseans.
"They do not represent the views of people in the Vista neighborhood, Hillcrest neighborhood or others who don't want to have the value of their houses diminished because of the noise issues. And noise is the single biggest issue," Frazier added.
Journee says the Gowen Field advertisements you might be hearing or seeing are paid for by the State of Idaho. Gov. Otter signed a bill back in February giving the Idaho Department of Commerce $100,000 to use for F-35 mission campaigning.
KTVB plans on speaking with the Boise Airport in the near future, and there is much more to this story that we will continue to follow up on.