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Education
After her re-election, Ybarra hired campaign allies for state jobs

Originally posted on IdahoEdNews.org on Jan. 10.

BOISE — Sherri Ybarra’s campaign manager and an Ybarra campaign donor have landed jobs at the State Department of Education since her Nov. 6 re-election.

Meanwhile, a Nampa media company worked on Ybarra’s campaign, then landed taxpayer-funded work with Ybarra’s SDE, then went back to working on her campaign — all in the same year.

Ybarra won re-election by running a bare-bones race, heavily outspent by Democratic challenger Cindy Wilson. Yet there are numerous links between Ybarra’s campaign and Ybarra’s SDE, a 140-person agency responsible for overseeing Idaho’s K-12 system.

That’s an established pattern. Top Ybarra aides have been among Ybarra’s donors. And in several cases, Ybarra supporters have become members of her inner circle at SDE.

Scott Phillips

Phillips is a familiar figure in Idaho Republican circles. He is a former state GOP executive director. He has worked for State Controller Brandon Woolf and then-Gov. Jim Risch, among others. He also worked on former U.S. Rep. Raul Labrador’s unsuccessful run for governor in 2018.

In October, he made two contributions to the Ybarra campaign, totaling $330.06.

IdahoEdNews.org 

Scott Phillips

At the same time, Phillips was working for SDE on a contract basis. His main job was to help get the word out on Ybarra’s Keep Idaho Students Safe initiative — her $20.7 million school safety plan, which was also a key talking point in her re-election campaign. The KISS initiative was zeroed out in Gov. Brad Little’s 2019-20 budget request.

Ybarra’s KISS plan might be dead. But Philips got his money: $20,362.50 from Oct. 3 through Nov. 26.

Phillips also scored a permanent job. On Nov. 27, he started as the SDE’s stakeholder communications officer.

The post itself is still a work in progress, with no job description written.

“The superintendent is working to develop a new strategic communications plan, and the job description will be part of that process,” SDE spokeswoman Kris Rodine said Wednesday.

Clearly, Phillips will play a high-profile role within the SDE. He was hired one week after Ybarra parted ways with Allison Westfall, a communications director who had directly reported to Ybarra. Phillips will also be among the SDE’s highest-paid employees, making $90,188 per year.

Rodine did not provide a copy of Phillips’ resume. She also said she could not answer campaign-related questions, so she could not confirm that Phillips contributed to Ybarra’s campaign.

But Phillips did refer Idaho Education News to a copy of his resume on LinkedIn. The resume outlined Phillips’ background in media relations, speech-writing and political campaigns. Phillips’ resume also lists a street address — identical to the address that appears, next to Phillips’ name, on Ybarra’s campaign finance reports.

Tyler Kelly

From July through October, Kelly received four payments from the Ybarra campaign, totaling $2,000, for campaign “management services.”

The four payments correspond with Kelly’s time as Ybarra’s campaign manager. According to Kelly’s LinkedIn profile, he began managing her campaign in June.

IdahoEdNews.org 

Tyler Kelly

On Nov. 19, less than two weeks after Ybarra’s re-election, Kelly began work as an administrative assistant at the SDE. An administrative assistant performs a variety of functions, such as scheduling, staffing phone lines, making travel arrangements and editing training manuals.

Kelly will receive $33,966 per year.

A mixed track record

It’s not uncommon for campaign staff or campaign donors to get jobs working for winning candidates.

It’s not even unprecedented within Ybarra’s SDE.

In 2014, Tim McMurtrey and Dan Goicoechea were among Ybarra’s earliest campaign donors.

McMurtrey — a former superintendent in the Mountain Home School District, where Ybarra worked — joined the SDE in 2015. He remains in Ybarra’s inner circle, as deputy superintendent.

Goicoechea lasted barely a month on his job.

Hired in August 2017 as Ybarra’s liaison on the State Land Board and primary media contact, Goicoechea lost his job the same day he was publicly accused of harassment, discrimination and physical intimidation. The graphic claims, later settled, stemmed from Goicoechea’s time in the controller’s office, as Woolf’s chief of staff.

Peppershock Media

On May 3 — less than two weeks before Ybarra won a contested Republican primary — the Nampa-based Peppershock received $1,247.06 from the campaign. Peppershock’s job was to secure airtime for campaign ads.

Come summer, Peppershock received another job, this time from the SDE. The company produced a 30-second public service announcement touting Ybarra’s KISS initiative and traveled to American Falls to shoot video of Idaho teacher of the year Marc Beitia.

Peppershock received $7,200 in taxpayer money, mostly to produce the KISS public service announcement and purchase airtime.

In October, Peppershock was again working for Ybarra’s campaign, producing TV and radio spots and again buying airtime. Peppershock received $11,975, constituting about three-fourths of the money the campaign spent in the final weeks leading up to Election Day.

When one project ended, another began, said Drew Allen, Peppershock’s co-owner and creative director. The company tracked each project separately. Emails about the election ads went to the campaign, not to SDE. And, he and Rodine said, no taxpayer dollars went into campaign ads.

“We understand that there could be a conflict,” Allen said.

Peppershock has no current contracts with the SDE, but the agency has “a long and satisfying history” with the company, Rodine said. Peppershock’s work with SDE dates back to Tom Luna’s two terms as state superintendent.

“We’re basically here when they need us,” Allen said.

Hiding in plain sight?

These money trails are all a matter of public record.

Campaign finance reports have long been available online through the secretary of state’s office.

And on Tuesday, the SDE unveiled a new “transparency portal” on its website. The site includes a roster of staff positions and salaries, and an online checkbook, updated daily, that tracks department expenditures — such as contract work performed by Phillips and Peppershock.

In a news release Tuesday, Ybarra touted the new transparency page.

“Education represents the single largest category of state spending,” she said. “Citizens have a right to know how their tax dollars are spent to help schools prepare students for college and careers.”


Entertainment
We always knew Idaho was strange. Here is the state’s favorite Netflix show.

BOISE — Have you watched the teaser for season three of “Stranger Things,” which returns July 4?

It’s must-see TV if you’re an Idahoan. (Spoiler: It’s a lame trailer.)

The science-fiction horror series was the Gem State’s most popular Netflix show in 2018, according to the annual 50-state report from HighSpeedInternet.com.

Based on total states, America’s most popular Netflix show was teen drama “13 Reasons Why.” It finished No. 1 in seven of them.

In reality, Idaho’s top choice wasn’t unusual at all. “Stranger Things” was the favorite Netflix show in four states, which also included Utah, Colorado and Nebraska. In the Treasure Valley, Boise brewery Woodland Empire Ale Craft even created a bizarre beer and hosted a watch party to celebrate season two.

In 2017, the only state that claimed “Stranger Things” as its top pick was Utah. (Go figure.)

Idaho’s No. 1 show in 2017 was another sci-fi series, “Travelers“ — and we were the only state with that winner.

Oddly enough, “Stranger Things” was the Gem State’s favorite the prior year.

Craving a fresher sci-fi fix? Check out the thriller “Counterpart“ on Starz, which is offering a $5 per month deal. Season two of “Counterpart” kicked off in December, but you can catch up by streaming on-demand. The show’s star, J.K. Simmons, is probably best known for his ubiquitous Farmers Insurance commercials, but I’ll always remember him as the evil Vern Schillinger from HBO’s long-running prison drama “Oz.”


Govt-and-politics
AP
Hearing planned on barrel ruptures at E. Idaho nuclear site

BOISE — A government board that makes recommendations on U.S. Department of Energy facilities plans to hold a public hearing concerning the rupture of four barrels containing radioactive sludge at an eastern Idaho nuclear site.

The Defense Nuclear Facilities Safety Board will meet in May in Washington, D.C., to discuss the ruptures at the Energy Department’s 890-square-mile (2,300-square-kilometer) site in eastern Idaho that includes the Idaho National Laboratory.

The board in a closed meeting last month opted for the public hearing involving the April barrel ruptures at the Radioactive Waste Management Complex.

Three of the four board members voted in favor of holding the meeting, while Bruce Hamilton abstained, citing his concerns about the location of the meeting. “The recent event at Idaho National Laboratory is worthy of further information gathering which could be facilitated by a hearing. Whether that hearing is best accomplished in Washington, D.C., instead of in Idaho is questionable,” he wrote.

Officials say there were no injuries and no threat to the public because of the barrel ruptures. Work later resumed at the facility.

U.S. Department of Energy contractor Fluor Idaho in a statement Thursday said it appreciated the board’s interest in the problems with the barrels and said it “will lend our technical assistance as needed. We have worked with the board over the past several years on technical issues associated with the cleanup mission in Idaho and have always welcomed their input.”

The company has previously said all four 55-gallon (208-liter) barrels appeared to have ruptured the same day they had been packed. An alarm on April 11 alerted officials that one barrel ruptured.

The company reported that three Idaho National Laboratory firefighters who entered the earthen-floored structure on April 11 to extinguish a smoldering barrel reported other possible breaches, and crews outside heard some of the barrels rupture.

The barrels were initially buried in unlined pits in Idaho, but they were unearthed as part of a cleanup process. The company has said the facility had successfully processed about 9,500 barrels before the ruptures occurred.

The barrels were eventually going to be shipped to the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant near Carlsbad, New Mexico, but they hadn’t yet gone through a certification process to allow that to occur, Simpson said.

At the underground repository in 2014, a barrel of radioactive waste ruptured after being inappropriately packed at Los Alamos National Laboratory. The waste had been mixed with organic cat litter to absorb moisture, resulting in a chemical reaction.

The incident resulted in a radiation release that forced the closure of the repository for nearly three years and prompted an expensive recovery effort and a major policy overhaul for handling Cold War-era waste.

The Idaho site has been used for nuclear waste disposal and storage beginning in the 1950s. The federal government has been cleaning it up following court battles and several agreements with Idaho in the 1990s amid concerns by state officials that Idaho was becoming a nuclear waste dump.


Crime-and-courts
5th District Court News
5th District Court News: Twin Falls County

Twin Falls County

Thursday arraignments

Valentin Lopez Martinez, 29, Twin Fall; felony possession of controlled substance and misdemeanor possession of controlled substance, own-recognizance release, public defender appointed, prelim Jan. 18.

Jonathan Hernandez, 25, Twin Falls; domestic battery, own-recognizance release, public defender appointed, pretrial conference Feb. 26.

Aleshia L Faulkner, 43, Twin Falls; domestic battery, own-recognizance release, public defender appointed, pretrial conference March 12.

Tamesen Elise Davis, 25, Bend, Ore.; assault/battery on certain personnel, walk-in summons, bond posted previously, prelim Jan. 18.


AP
The Market at a Glance: Industrials lead US stocks higher again; Macy's nosedives

NEW YORK (AP) — A day of back-and-forth trading Thursday ended with the fifth gain in a row for U.S. stocks. Industrial companies like Boeing and General Electric rose while retailers fell as Macy's suffered its biggest loss of all time.

Stocks struggled in the early going and the Dow Jones Industrial Average lost 175 points after U.S. and Chinese officials wrapped trade talks in Beijing. Transportation and machinery companies climbed after the U.S. Trade Representative said China agreed to buy more agricultural and manufactured products.

Macy's said its sales over the holidays were worse than expected and slashed its annual profit and sales forecasts. Kohl's and L Brands also posted disappointing results and a wide variety of retailers plunged as investors worried that the stock market's December plunge stopped some shoppers from spending as much as they had planned.

"High-end consumers, even though they're making decent money (and) the economy is going on relatively strong, it may have affected their willingness to splurge over the holidays," said Ken Perkins, president of the research firm Retail Metrics. "It was not good timing at all."

The S&P 500 index added 11.68 points, or 0.5 percent, to 2,596.64. The Dow Jones Industrial Average gained 122.80 points, or 0.5 percent, to 24,001.92 after it fell 175 points in the morning.

The Nasdaq composite rose 28.99 points, or 0.4 percent, to 6,986.07. The Russell 2000 index of smaller-company stocks picked up 6.63 points, or 0.5 percent, to 1,445.43.

U.S. negotiators said China's delegation pledged to buy more energy and agricultural products and manufactured goods. That helped Boeing climb 2.6 percent to $352.61 and General Electric jumped 5.2 percent to $8.94 while Deere rose 3.1 percent to $159.12.

However, that point is considered a relatively minor area of disagreement, and there were no hints of progress on bigger issues. The U.S. wants China to change its technology policy to reduce cyber theft of trade secrets and seeks more access to the Chinese market and increased protection for foreign patents and copyrights.

Macy's said holiday sales slowed in the middle of December and the department store cut its annual profit and sales forecasts. Its stock plunged 17.7 percent to $26.11 in heavy trading. Macy's went public in February 1992 and reached an all-time high of almost $73 a share in mid-2015, but four of the five biggest one-day plunges in its history have come in the last three years.

Macy's announcement came as a surprise because investor expectations for the holiday season have been high. Unemployment is the lowest it's been in decades, wages are rising and consumer confidence is high, while gas prices dropped late last year. In late December, stocks rallied after Mastercard SpendingPulse said shoppers spent $850 billion between Nov. 1 and Dec. 24, an increase of 5 percent from the same time a year earlier.

But the stock market fell sharply in October and then took a dramatic drop over the first three weeks of December. Shortly afterward the federal government went into a partial shutdown that is still ongoing.

While large numbers retailers took steep losses Thursday, Perkins said the market turmoil is a much bigger problem for companies like Macy's because most stocks are owned by relatively wealthy people. That means big box stores and companies that sell less expensive goods won't be affected as much, as shown by Target's stronger sales report. Perkins added that said Amazon likely had a "stellar" holiday season.

Chipmakers rose and other technology stocks edged higher, while high-dividend stocks like utilities and household goods companies made strong gains.

Oil prices extended their rally to a ninth consecutive day. U.S. crude added 0.4 percent to $52.59 a barrel in New York. It's now up 23.7 percent since hitting an 18-month low on Dec. 24. Brent crude, the international standard, slid 0.4 percent to $61.68 a barrel in London.

Federal Reserve Chairman Jerome Powell was interviewed at the Economic Club of Washington DC. Stocks briefly fell after Powell said he expects the Fed's $4 trillion bond portfolio to shrink until it is "substantially smaller than it is now." Powell noted that the Fed had about $1 trillion on its balance sheet before the 2007-08 financial crisis.

The Fed's bond holdings are slowly shrinking, which tends to put upward pressure on long-term interest rates. Investors have grown concerned about the effects of those tighter credit conditions as the global economy slows. Powell said in December that the Fed could slow the changes to its portfolio if necessary.

Bond prices slipped. The yield on the 10-year Treasury note rose to 2.74 percent from 2.72 percent.

In other energy trading, wholesale gasoline added 0.4 percent to $1.43 a gallon and heating oil rose 1.3 percent to $1.91 a gallon. Natural gas dipped 0.5 percent to $2.70 per 1,000 cubic feet.

Gold fell 0.4 percent to $1,287.40 an ounce and silver shed 0.6 percent to $15.64 an ounce. Copper lost 0.7 percent to $2.97 a pound.

The dollar rose to 108.42 yen from 108.28 yen and the euro fell to $1.1500 from $1.1544.

France's CAC 40 lost 0.2 percent while Germany's DAX edged up 0.3 percent. The British FTSE 100 rose 0.5 percent.

Japan's Nikkei 225 index, which gained more than 1 percent on Wednesday, fell 1.3 percent and the Kospi in South Korea dropped 0.1 percent. Hong Kong's Hang Seng recovered from early losses and added 0.2 percent.


 Jon Ingraham

commodities
Commodities

Aug;Live Cattle;124.900;123.000;123.950 S;1.200

Oct;Live Cattle;117.850;117.075;117.200 S;-0.175

Aug;Feeder Cattle;147.150;146.075;146.125 S;-0.625

Oct;Feeder Cattle;146.225;145.175;145.750 S;0.075

Aug;Lean Hogs;68.250;66.425;67.350 S;-0.500

Oct;Lean Hogs;73.900;72.300;72.875 S;-1.025

Jul;Wheat;523^6;512^6;519^4 S;6^0

Sep;Wheat;529^0;519^0;525^0 S;5^2

Jul;KC Wheat;508^6;497^4;504^4 S;5^6

Sep;KC Wheat;519^4;508^4;516^0 S;5^6

Jul;MPS Wheat;573^2;563^2;564^0 P;6^6

Sep;MPS Wheat;578^6;569^0;569^4 P;5^4

Jul;Corn;379^2;376^6;378^2 S;2^6

Sep;Corn;387^6;385^0;386^6 S;2^6

Jul;Soybeans;901^2;897^2;899^2 S;3^0

Aug;Soybeans;912^2;906^6;910^2 S;3^6

Jul;BFP Milk;14.53;14.38;14.49 S;0.03

Aug;BFP Milk;15.06;14.94;15.06 S;0.10

Sep;BFP Milk;15.52;15.40;15.51 S;0.09

Oct;BFP Milk;15.90;15.81;15.90 S;0.09

Nov;BFP Milk;16.14;16.09;16.12 S;0.08

Jul;Sugar;12.91;12.68;12.78 S;0.11

Oct;Sugar;13.04;12.82;12.92 S;0.11

Jun;B-Pound;1.2907;1.2749;1.2786 P;0.0104

Jun;J-Yen;0.92935;0.92540;0.92700 P;-0.00030

Jun;Canada Dollar;0.76000;0.75595;0.75860 P;-0.00190

Jun;Euro-Currency;1.16030;1.15195;1.15620 P;-0.00310

Jun;Swiss Franc;1.0251;1.0207;1.0223 P;0.0002

Jun;US Dollar;95.365;94.780;95.120 P;0.105

Aug;Comex Gold;1302.1;1293.9;1296.1 S;1.5

Oct;Comex Gold;1308.4;1300.1;1302.7 S;1.7

Sep;Comex Silver;15.860;15.695;15.751 S;0.016

Dec;Comex Silver;15.935;15.780;15.841 S;0.001

Sep;Coffee;108.15;105.95;107.20 S;-0.45

Dec;Coffee;111.05;108.95;110.10 S;-0.50

Aug;Crude Oil;73.25;72.34;72.49 S;-0.36


Print-specific
Beans

Valley Beans

Prices are net to growers, 100 pounds, U.S. No. 1 beans, less Idaho bean tax and storage charges. Prices subject to change without notice. Producers desiring more recent price information should contact dealers.

Open market prices established by Kelley Bean’s Idaho locations: pintos $22, great northerns $23, small reds $28, blacks ask, pinks, $25. Quotes current Jan. 14.

Valley Grains

Prices for wheat per bushel mixed grain, oats, corn and beans per hundredweight. Prices subject to change without notice.

Wheat, $4.20, barley, $6.50 (cwt) corn, $7.59 (cwt) oats, $7.00 (cwt). Prices are given by Rangen in Buhl. Prices current Jan. 14.

Corn, $7.90 (cwt) barley, $5.00 (cwt) wheat, $4.25 (bushel). Prices quoted by JD Heiskell. Prices current Jan. 14.

Cheese

Barrels $1.2300 -1.5 Blocks $1.4225 +1.25 Prices current Jan. 14.


Print-specific
Snowpack

Today’s Median

Salmon 74%

Big Wood 69%

Little Wood 59%

Big Lost 60%

Little Lost 69%

Henrys Fork/Teton 79%

Upper Snake Basin 81%

Goose Creek 97%

Salmon Falls 95%

Today’s median peak compares water content with what is normally seen on this day.

As of Jan 11.


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Crime-and-courts
breaking
Twin Falls man charged in Blaine County police standoff

HAILEY — A Twin Falls man involved in an armed standoff in November in Blaine County has cleared a mental health evaluation and now faces three felony charges, the Blaine County Sheriff’s Office said.

Dillon Dugger, 29, was booked into the Blaine County Jail on Thursday on counts of aggravated assault, attempted strangulation and unlawful possession of a firearm by a convicted felon.

Police were called to the Rancher’s Supply store in Picabo on Nov. 16 after a woman came into the store and said Dugger had attempted to strangle her and put a pistol to her head during an argument, the sheriff’s office said. Dugger and the victim were traveling together when their car broke down in Picabo.

Police found Dugger in a nearby park with a handgun, the sheriff’s office said at the time. A three-hour armed standoff with law enforcement temporarily shut down Idaho Highway 20 and ended in peaceful surrender.

Dugger was committed to Canyon View Hospital in Twin Falls for a mental health evaluation. A warrant for his arrest in Blaine County was filed on Nov. 30, roughly two weeks after the incident.


Gretel Kauffman / PHOTO COURTESY OF BLAINE COUNTY SHERIFF'S OFFICE  

Dugger


Crime-and-courts
18-year-old man leads law enforcement officers on a pursuit into a Twin Falls residential neighborhood

TWIN FALLS — An 18-year-old man led law enforcement officers Tuesday night on a pursuit into a residential neighborhood.

A Jerome police officer pursuing a vehicle into Twin Falls at about 9 p.m. was joined in by a Twin Falls County Sheriff’s deputy, said sheriff’s office spokeswoman Lori Stewart.

Jerome police say the driver was Alejandro Vielmas. Vielmas, driving a Mitsubishi Eclipse, ran several red lights and stop signs, Stewart said. As the Eclipse approached Walnut Street and Spruce Avenue near Twin Falls High School, a sheriff’s deputy was given permission by his supervisor to attempt a PIT maneuver — when a police car bumps the other car to stop the pursuit.

As the Eclipse stopped, a man believed to be Vielmas exited and ran east, Stewart said. A sheriff’s deputy followed on foot.

The Twin Falls Police Department got involved at that point by setting up a perimeter and waiting for a K9 unit to respond. But police learned allegations against the suspect weren’t severe enough to justify the use of a police dog, said Twin Falls Police Lt. Terry Thueson.

The suspect wasn’t found and no arrests have been made, Stewart said. Police are looking for Vielmas, she said, but a warrant hasn't been issued.