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Rolly: Charter school bill harks back to alleged legislative shakedown

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Paul Rolly

By PAUL ROLLY

The Salt Lake Tribune

First published Feb 18 2014 10:02PM
Updated Feb 19, 2014 08:21AM

The Salt Lake Tribune’s story Monday about Rep. Rich Cunningham’s allegations that pro-charter-school measure in 2005 was more about financially benefiting three legislators than good governance reminded me of a 2006 incident that some Alpine residents pointed to as a legislative shakedown.

Cunningham, R-South Jordan, is trying to roll back the law that gives charter schools free rein to locate on land, regardless of zoning designations, and limits a city’s ability to regulate them.

He asserts the bill was passed to financially aid three then-legislators — Rep. Mike Morley, a developer who built charter schools, Rep. Jim Ferrin, who financed the projects, and Sen. Sheldon Killpack, a charter school administrator.

The measure was sponsored by Ferrin, who later was accused of telling some Alpine residents that they couldn’t legally stop the proposed Mountainville Academy from being built in their neighborhood, but he would find another location in exchange for $500,000.

Some 25 residents signed a letter to the Alpine City Council, stating their main concern about the school was the traffic it would bring.

Ferrin told the residents, according to the letter, he would need to be made whole on a $100,000 nonrefundable deposit he made on the property. Then, stated the letter, he added: "Also, it would have to be worthwhile, $500,000 or so."

Ferrin, in a follow-up statement to the council, said those remarks were taken out of context from a two-hour meeting and didn’t represent the true meaning of his comments.

He also pointed out that he made it clear that the gift would be to the school, not him.

He lost his bid for re-election.

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Partying with Abe • ’Tis the season for Lincoln Day dinners, the annual fundraising banquets staged by county Republicans. Davis County’s GOP will hold its gala Thursday evening at the Davis Conference Center.

It should go smoother than last year’s.

That was when Kris Kimball, former chairwoman of the Davis County Republican Party and head of the Eagle Forum-aligned United Women’s Forum, heard about a Davis County man who possessed a Civil War-era American flag.

She arranged for him to bring his flag to the Lincoln Day Dinner, where he said it was carried by Union General William Tecumseh Sherman during his march through the South.

The man agreed to auction off the right to have a private party where he would display the flag for guests at the party. Proceeds would go to the Davis County GOP.

The winning couple paid $1,900, but they later became suspicious.

They did some research and couldn’t establish the flag’s authenticity. They shared their concerns with Davis County Republican Chairman Phil Wright. He took the matter to the party’s executive committee, which voted to return the $1,900. The couple never did have their private flag party.

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Frolicking along • There have been other colorful moments at Lincoln Day dinners.

Salt Lake County Republicans believed they had a sure moneymaker at their dinner in 2010.

They had scheduled right-wing star James O’Keefe, who was credited with bringing down the left-leaning organizing group, ACORN, by secretly recording alleged wrongdoing by its officials.

O’Keefe was certain to attract a big crowd of Barack Obama haters. The party even offered a private VIP reception with the tea party hero for donations of $4,000.

Then O’Keefe got arrested a week before the event for attempting to tamper with the phone of a U.S. senator.

So much for the $4,000-per-person reception.

Last year, Utah County’s Lincoln Day Dinner had some awkward moments when then-newly elected Attorney General John Swallow had his own table at the banquet and nobody would sit with him.

This year, at the Utah County dinner, some more awkwardness arose when party officials gave special plaques for service to some officeholders, including House Speaker Becky Lockhart, R-Provo, but not to Gov. Gary Herbert, her potential opponent in 2016.

prolly@sltrib.com

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