Boise Employees Can't Work For Their Boss Outside City Hall—Unless It's The Mayor

Oct 17, 2019

Boise officials said Amber Pence, the city’s former chief lobbyist, didn’t violate any policies when she simultaneously kept her job and was hired on full time to Mayor Dave Bieter’s re-election campaign this summer.

But the city handbook clearly states “city employees are prohibited from providing outside employment services” to anyone they report to, or anyone they supervise outside of their normal job duties. 

Pence directly reported to Bieter as the Boise’s intergovernmental affairs director, according to a city organizational chart.

Still, city spokesman Mike Journee said this arrangement didn’t violate city policy, citing federal law that excludes elected politicians from being defined as “employees.” Instead, the organizational chart lists the “Citizens of Boise” as the ultimate overseers of the mayor, city council and all city departments.

Such an arrangement to work full time for Bieter, her former supervisor, would violate city policy if her boss had been anyone but the mayor, but it doesn’t break any kind of state campaign finance law.

“Just because something is legal doesn’t mean that it’s ethical,” said Jessica Flanigan, who teaches ethics and leadership at the University of Richmond.

Pence resigned from her city position at the end of May to work as the mayor’s chief fundraiser for his campaign in June – a position she previously held more than 10 years ago according to her LinkedIn profile that has now been taken down.

But as Boise State Public Radio first reported Friday, she continued to be employed by the city until June 28 while using her remaining accrued vacation time, according to Journee.

Last week, he said, “If she’s on vacation, she can do what she wants to do.”

Unlike private sector employees, Flanigan said government workers should be held to a higher ethical standard because their duty is to provide services for the benefit of the public by using taxpayer dollars.

“If it’s perceived to be impermissible in some cases, then you should probably avoid it if it looks kind of sketchy,” she said.

The policy that bans city employees from working for his or her boss was first put into place in 2006 and was revised as recently as 2012 – all within Bieter’s tenure as the city’s longest-serving mayor. He first took office in 2003.

Pence had worked as Boise’s top lobbyist since September 2013 and was most recently paid about $91,500 annually.

Under city rules, Pence could have been paid her remaining vacation in a lump sum, but instead she chose to use her remaining balance. That left her still eligible for taxpayer-subsidized benefits while simultaneously working full time for Bieter’s campaign.

It’s unclear why she didn’t take that one-time payment and Pence didn’t respond to requests for comment.

Bieter also didn’t return a request for response through his campaign manager and he had no further comment beyond a statement from a city spokesman saying the mayor didn't violate any policy. 

Flanigan said public sector leadership roles give individuals special status to do things like levy taxes. But it can also make them prone to “ethical failure.”

“It’s easy for people to convince themselves that they are outside of the scope of morality in other cases,” she said.

Editor's note: This article originally said Mayor Dave Bieter didn't return a request for comment through his city spokesman. It's been updated to clarify the city's response.

Follow James Dawson on Twitter @RadioDawson for more local news.

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