The Idaho Attorney General’s Office is investigating the work of a former contracted appraiser for Bannock County who filed a lawsuit against the county and several county officials earlier this month.
The Attorney General’s Office and Bannock County officials are refusing to say anything about the investigation other than that it’s being conducted on the work of Kevin Franck, an Idaho Falls-based licensed tax appraiser who had previously been contracted by Bannock County to conduct property appraisals.
The Bannock County Commission announced in a press release last week that it conducted a financial audit between February and May into the performance of Franck, who was terminated by the county in January.
The county commissioners said in their press release that they conducted the probe after concerns arose regarding Franck’s work for the county. Franck started working for the county in October 2015 with no known problems associated with his work until the county terminated him this past January, Franck told the Journal during a phone interview last week.
The results of the commissioners’ audit of Franck’s work have been turned over to the Idaho Attorney General’s Office for review and the commissioners referred all future requests for comment on the matter to the Attorney General’s Office, according to the comissioners’ press release.
The Idaho State Journal last week sent a public records request via email to the Attorney General’s Office requesting a copy of the commissioners’ financial audit and any other documents sent to the Attorney General’s Office from Bannock County regarding Franck’s work for the county.
The Attorney General’s Office denied the request in an email response provided to the Journal last Thursday.
“Your request is denied,” the email to the Journal from the Attorney General’s Office stated. “The records you have requested are part of an active investigation and are exempt from disclosure under (state statute), which provides that active investigatory records are exempt from disclosure where disclosure would interfere with an enforcement proceeding or deprive a person of a right to a fair trial as provided in (state statute).”
The Attorney General’s Office’s investigation has not yet culminated in any criminal allegations against Franck or anyone else.
Bannock County Commissioner Steve Brown declined to comment regarding the investigation when contacted by the Journal last week.
The Attorney General’s Office also declined to comment on the investigation.
Bannock County Clerk Jason Dixon declined to provide a copy of the commissioners’ audit to the Journal or comment on the matter, saying it’s against county policy to comment on pending litigation.
Franck said he was aware of the commissioners’ audit of his work.
“There was a person who was doing an audit near the end of February or at the start of March and he wanted to ask me some questions,” Franck said. “Through my attorney we told him to email us some questions and we would get back to him via email and we didn’t hear anything from him again.”
Franck claims in his lawsuit against Bannock County filed in U.S. District Court on July 2 that his contract was wrongfully terminated by the country this past January. Franck included in the lawsuit a copy of the termination letter Bannock County sent to his attorney, Lance J. Schuster of Idaho Falls, on Jan. 24 that said the County Commission determined Franck violated his October 2018 contract to conduct property appraisals in the county.
Among other unlisted claims, the commissioners terminated Franck effective immediately on Jan. 24 for “his failure to maintain the required license to perform the work under the contract and promptly notify the county if his license is revoked, suspended or not renewed for any reason.”
According to his lawsuit, Franck has been a property tax appraiser, certified and authorized by the Idaho Tax Commission, since February 2010, though he has never held a real estate appraiser license with the Idaho Bureau of Occupational Licensing.
The certification Franck holds is identical to the certificates full-time Bannock County appraisers must have to perform work in the county.
Considering Franck was terminated over licensing issues, according to the county’s January letter, and before a financial audit into his work was performed, according to the commissioners’ press release last week, Franck believes the purpose of the audit was merely an attempt by the commissioners to uncover wrongdoing by him after he was unfairly fired.
“I feel that they realized and they admitted to firing me for an invalid reason but (a county official) thought there might be other things they could find,” Franck said. “The audit happened after they fired me for not being a real estate appraiser licensed through the (Idaho Bureau of) Occupational Licensing. When they found out that reasoning was flawed, I think they were trying to cover their butts and say, ‘Well we have to find something else on him.’”
Franck’s contract with the county should have paid him a total of $125,000 for appraising 20 percent of Bannock County’s properties between Oct. 1, 2018, and April 15, 2019. He says the county still owes him $70,000 for conducting the 1,100 property appraisals he was contracted to perform.
Bannock County, through its Idaho Falls attorney Blake Hall, has not yet issued a response to the facts alleged in Franck’s lawsuit.
The filing of Franck’s lawsuit happened during a firestorm at the Bannock County Assessor’s Office, fueled by assessment notices that were mailed to county property owners 18 days late and included annual increases in assessed property values of between 20 and 75 percent or more.
The late assessment notices resulted in the Bannock County Board of Equalization receiving over 1,000 appeals from angry county property owners.
The Bannock County Board of Equalization is comprised of the county commissioners — Brown, Terrel “Ned” Tovey and Ernie Moser. The county’s assessor, Sheri Davies, is also typically present during the assessment appeal hearings to provide pertinent information from the Assessor’s Office that the Board of Equalization can use in deciding appeals.
The Idaho Tax Commission gave the county until the end of July to host hearings on the appeals, which were suspended from July 3 until July 10 after the county received conflicting information about how to host the hearings, the County Commission said in a news release earlier this month.
When the Board of Equalization resumed on July 11, Davies abruptly left those hearings, leaving the county commissioners to handle the property assessment appeals on their own without her input.
Davies has not responded to multiple requests for comment on why she abruptly left the hearings.
In response to Davies’ behavior at the July 11 hearings, Brown said, “Emotions run high during a crisis like this. Sometimes it’s easy to get wires crossed and let emotions get in the way.”