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Huntsman hirings, firings and deals detailed in reports

Governor's 'transition book' offers inside look at process

A peek into the private decision-making of Gov.-elect Jon Huntsman Jr. and his top aides, as they prepared last December to take office in 2005, is revealed in a 2-inch-thick "transition book" released to the news media this week.

The loose-leaf collection is a big but sketchy in-house picture of state government operations, problems and possible remedies.

Background details in the book reveal that Huntsman — based on one of his volunteer transition team's stinging evaluation and strong endorsement for change — fired a top executive, then hired the leader of the transition team to fill the vacancy.

D'Arcy Dixon Pignanelli, last fall the chief of staff to Murray Mayor Dan Snarr, headed Huntsman's transition team looking at the Department of Administrative Services, a catch-all agency that includes internal state workings such as motor pools, finance and purchasing.

Pignanelli and her team suggested that then-executive director Camille Anthony not be kept on in the new Huntsman administration.

"Not a single team member is prepared to recommend that (Anthony) be retained," said the Dec. 16 final report to Huntsman — who would take office three weeks later.

Huntsman let Anthony go and hired, of all people, Pignanelli. She remains today the only recognizable Democrat in GOP Huntsman's Cabinet.

"I was surprised to be asked to serve on a transition team," Pignanelli said Tuesday. "I had no idea, none, that I would ever receive an offer to join the Huntsman administration" either before or just after her team's report was handed in. In the last week of December, Huntsman called to ask her to be in his Cabinet.

Pignanelli said after the job offer she asked top Huntsman aides if the governor was "OK with the fact that the team" recommended that Anthony be let go. "I wanted to make sure (Huntsman) would not be harmed" if that recommendation got out after he named Pignanelli to the post.

She said she was reassured that Huntsman was aware of the possible conflict and rejected it. She said she then accepted the job.

Pignanelli's team made a number of recommendations, including reorganizing state information services (computers, software, etc.) into a separate department. A reorganizing of state IT is under way after Pignanelli's team and a separate transition team both said state IT was a mess.

Pignanelli wasn't the only person on a Huntsman transition team to end up with a state job.

Kent Michie, co-chair of his financial institutions team, was ultimately hired as the state's insurance commissioner. Michie was not on the insurance transition team.

C. Hope Eccles and Tim Bridgewater were on Huntsman's education transition team, and Huntsman brought them into his office: Eccles overseeing higher education issues; Bridgewater on public education. The big difference is that they both served over the last months without pay, while Pignanelli and Michie are salaried state bosses.

The transition book also lists dozens of people who applied for top jobs with Huntsman — or who were seriously considered for some top jobs — but who ultimately were not picked.

For example, Rep. Dave Ure, R-Kamas, was recommended by two different transition teams for a top post. He got neither. Ure, a dairy farmer who has twice been a finalist in the race for House speaker, was on the short list to head both the Agriculture Department and the Department of Natural Resources.

Huntsman ultimately picked then-Sen. Leonard Blackham, R-Moroni, as agriculture commissioner and then-Rep. Mike Styler, R-Delta, to head the Department of Natural Resources.

Ure remains in the House where, as a member of the so-called conservative "Cowboy Caucus," he's opposed various initiatives (supported others) by Republican leadership. Ure was unavailable for comment.

Salt Lake County Sheriff Aaron Kennard (a Republican) was considered for head of state corrections (then-acting director Scott Carver got the job). Also considered was 3rd Congressional District candidate Beau Babka (a Democrat and South Salt Lake police captain).

The thick transition book is a hodge-podge of notes, memos and evaluations. Huntsman spokeswoman Tammy Kikuchi said while some of the transition teams, over a 40-day period late last year, gave detailed written reports — contained in the book — others gave verbal reports to Huntsman and his chief of staff, Jason Chaffetz; thus the sparsity of some transition team's reports.

Huntsman campaigned on, and came into office with, some of his own ideas of how the 21,000-employee, $8-billion-spending state government should be run.

The transition reports appear to reflect some of Huntsman's preconceived concerns. But in other areas it appears Huntsman is seriously considering the reports' outside recommendations.

Just after taking office in January, Huntsman gutted the state's Department of Community and Economic Development, firing 33 people and replacing most of the department's leaders. He's since moved economic development into his own office. The transition book shows that the team that studied that department had little faith in how it was being run.

"There is no clear mission or strategy communicated by current management," that team reported, recommending that four of the seven agency heads be replaced, including executive director David Harmer. Only the heads of housing, history and libraries should be kept, the team said.

Much of the report restated problems known in state government for years:

The state needs at least $6 billion in critical road construction/replacement.

Workloads in adult probation and parole (and many other state social service agencies) are too heavy, with agents not being able to spend adequate time supervising clients.

Pay scales for dozens, if not hundreds, of specific state worker jobs fall well below that in the public sector and/or below pay scales of government workers, both in county and city positions in Utah and for state workers in surrounding states.

In addition to separate teams looking at specific departments, Huntsman also formed an "efficiency" team, which looked at state government as a whole. That eight-member team included former House leaders Kevin Garn and Marty Stephens as well as former gubernatorial chief-of-staff Bud Scruggs (a Deseret Morning News board member) and former gubernatorial aide LaVar Webb (who co-writes a column for the newspaper).

That team made a number of recommendations and highlighted several problems, including that the state's information technology activities are confusing and expensive. The team found 1,000 IT employees spread throughout state government.

"While we do not pretend to understand the complexities of state IT practices, we refuse to believe that a ratio of 1 IT support staff for every 21 state employees can be justified. This ratio is even worse than it appears, since most application development is outsourced (to private firms) and thus not reflected in state headcount," the team wrote. "There is no IT policy direction in state government."

In some cases, Huntsman found old wounds that remain open.

When Huntsman's financial institution transition team asked for comment on then-Financial Institutions Commissioner Ed Leary, the Utah League of Credit Unions — long in a pitched battle with local banks — took the chance to criticize Leary, saying he and his agency "failed to support legislation beneficial" to Utah credit unions and their members. "New leadership is critical," wrote credit union association president Scott Simpson.

The Utah Bankers Association "conveys our strong recommendation that you retain (Leary) as a member of your cabinet," wrote UBA president Howard Headlee.

The Utah Consumer Lending Association said Leary should not only be kept but given a raise. Huntsman kept Leary.


E-mail: bbjr@desnews.com