Editorial By Mike Bibb
Recent revelations by the Arizona Capitol Times, July 18, 2017, and Gila Valley Central, July 18, 2017, pointed to several questionable financial discrepancies by former Arizona House Speaker David Gowan R-Sierra Vista.
Gowan is presently contemplating a state senate run in Legislative District 14, which includes Cochise, Graham and Greenlee counties.
The controversy involves Gowan’s submission of travel and per-diem expense receipts for which he was seeking state reimbursement. At the time, he was campaigning for an Arizona congressional seat but using state vehicles to travel. He later canceled his campaign and withdrew from the race.
However, in an apparent move to head-off a potentially incriminating investigation, Gowan requested the state Attorney General’s Office look into the matter, but only after the Arizona Capitol Times had released a 2016 story detailing the use of state fleet vehicles had dramatically increased during Gowan’s tenure as state house speaker.
The Times also revealed Gowan “repaid the state $12,000 that he had wrongfully received as reimbursement for trips he had taken in state vehicles (but reported as taking in his own vehicle) and per diem pay, for days he had claimed to work, but didn’t.”
This is where it gets a little confusing. Apparently, there was some kind of inner-office communications mix-up between Gowan and members of his staff regarding travel and work schedules. Gowan was doing one thing while his staff was reporting and submitting reimbursement requests based upon previously recorded information. Apparently, the two travels schedules often didn’t mesh, resulting in inaccurate reimbursement submissions, which resulted in inaccurate repayment amounts.
Or, at least that is the story line.
The Attorney General concluded “The investigation has shown that there was a substantial disregard for determining whether state funds for per diem, mileage and official travel were paid pursuant to proper authority, acts which could be potential felony violations of state statutes. However, it appears that the violations were not undertaken knowingly or intentionally but instead attributable to negligence – meaning that criminal charges could not be proven in court.”
On the other hand, it seems the AG is conducting another investigation of Gowan’s staff to determine if they destroyed, hid or otherwise made unavailable public records relating to the allegations against him.
This whole thing is beginning to smell a little fishy. Several witnesses mentioned that Gowan indicated in May 2015, “that he wasn’t getting all the reimbursement money he felt he was owed.” To compensate for the perceived deficiencies, Gowan’s assistants submitted additional reimbursement forms based upon information which may not have been correct.
Yet, Gowan had said he hadn’t paid much attention to his state issued paychecks and wasn’t sure how much additional reimbursement was included.
AG investigators made note of this saying “There is an argument to be made that Gowan constructively knew, or should have known that he wasn’t entitled to the extra funds in his paychecks. However, it would be very difficult to show in court that Gowan noticed inconsistencies in his paychecks, or knew the breakdowns in them.”
Apparently, Gowan realized he wasn’t receiving all the reimbursements he thought he was entitled to, but on the flip side, he didn’t notice when was being overpaid, either.
How is this possible? Gowan was the Arizona Speaker of the House of Representatives, fully cognizant of how the system works regarding salaries, reimbursement submissions and which activities are authorized to be reimbursed. If he or his staff had a question regarding the issue, I’m sure there are dozens of attorneys in the capitol, including the AG’s office, who could answer them.
But to intentionally submit reimbursement requests based upon incomplete or assumed information seems rather unprofessional, especially for one of the highest ranking officers in state government. The fact Gowan repaid the overages is commendable, but only did so after a newspaper article exposed the caper.
Furthermore, to insist the whole thing was the result of miscommunication between him and his staff is further evidence the right hand didn’t know what the left hand was doing. There reaches a point where negligence becomes an important factor in determining intent.
Unless, of course, you happened to be Hillary Clinton when “extreme carelessness” resulted in the commission of several felonies but wasn’t criminal enough to take to a Grand Jury.
The views and opinions expressed in this editorial are those of the author.