Gov. Butch Otter declined comment on Supreme Court Justice Jim Jones’s finding that Otter’s close friend and business partner bent state contracting rules to help the Idaho’s largest phone company obtain part of a $60 million contract.
But Otter said no matter what happens as the case returns to 4th District Court, Otter’s former Department of Administration Director Mike Gwartney will remain his good friend. Gwartney retired in 2010, not long after the lawsuit was filed.
“He was my friend before, he was my friend afterwards, and he’s still my friend, and he’s my good friend,” Otter said Thursday in his news conference following the adjournment of the Legislature. “And so, if there were mistakes make, I don’t know. But the courts will decide that, and however it comes out, Mike Gwartney will still be my friend.”
Gwartney and Otter have been close for decades, appearing together in dozens of rodeo team-roping competitions. They also operated the former Lonesome Dove riding arena in Eagle and have a land development business.
Idaho Supreme Court Justice Jim Jones said last week in a concurring opinion of the court that Gwartney apparently helped the state’s biggest phone company win a share of the contract to operate the Idaho Education Network.
The full court’s 5-0 ruling allows phone consortium Syringa Networks to pursue its 2009 case against the state, claiming it was improperly denied in the bidding to lay the broadband infrastructure for the education project.
“Gwartney appears to have been the architect of the state’s effort to bend the contracting rules to Qwest’s advantage,” Jones wrote. “In deposition testimony, he essentially admitted knowing, even before the contract award was made on Jan. 20, 2009, that Qwest would be ‘making the connections and providing the broadband’ for the Idaho Education Network.”
Qwest is now called CenturyLink. Gwartney told the Associated Press Monday that he didn’t try to advantage Qwest. “I want to assure you, every step of the process was vetted by those people, staff, very good staff, legal counsel,” he said. “I had so many people watching me, I couldn’t have bent the rules if I had wanted to.”