Ken Ivory has exited his Utah House seat to take an executive level job at a Silicon Slopes company that he helped hire for a special legislative project to appraise Utah’s public lands — an assignment that has evolved into a $700,000 state contract for the firm.
Ivory started his job at Geomancer, a Lehi software firm, on Monday, the same day he resigned from the Legislature. His position is as senior vice president of corporate strategy, a role that will require him to “wear lots of hats,” he said Wednesday in an interview at the state Capitol.
“It’s going to be a huge job. It’s a national reach, and you can only juggle so many balls,” the West Jordan Republican said, explaining his decision to leave his elected position of eight years.
But wilderness advocates questioned the propriety of Ivory’s jump to a firm that is profiting from state dollars secured with the former lawmaker’s help.
“It smacks of self-dealing and raises red flags," Stephen Bloch, legal director for the Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance, said in an interview.
The Western Values Project, a group that has opposed Ivory’s efforts to transfer public lands to state ownership, was similarly scathing.
“Ivory has already wasted millions in taxpayer dollars by pursuing his fantasy land-grab agenda that doesn’t pass public nor legal muster,” Chris Saeger, the project’s executive director, said in a prepared statement. "Now, he’ll be working for a firm hired by the same committee he once chaired. It’s long past time for Ivory to stop peddling his extremist public lands agenda on the taxpayers’ dime and ride off into the sunset.”
Ivory has been a strident proponent of putting a price tag on public lands, contending that the federal government doesn’t adequately reimburse counties for the vast stretches of untaxable property within their boundaries. But he said that he maintained arm’s-length in selecting the firm to do the work, even before Geomancer made him a job offer.
When the tech company approached him a couple of months ago, he sought guidance from the Legislature’s legal counsel and was told he could take the employment opportunity and remain in his elected role, if he wished. Out of an “abundance of caution,” he stepped away from the federalism commission that he’d helped conceive early in his House tenure.
“The minute [Geomancer] said, ‘Would you consider,’ ... I pulled out of everything,” the attorney and consultant said.
The commission did invite companies to bid over the potential work, and Ivory was not part of the selection committee that ranked Geomancer’s submission as the best. As a commission member, he voted to award Geomancer the $25,000 contract to develop a prototype that would appraise land in Washington County, with the idea of later applying the same software statewide.
The signatories on the contract were Ivory and the commission co-chairman, Sen. Lincoln Fillmore, R-South Jordan.
In June, the company shared the results of the pilot, which concluded that Washington County’s public lands would generate at least $12 million in annual property taxes if privatized and up to $300 million if they were developed. The federal government is only compensating Washington County for a fraction of that value — providing $3.1 million in PILT, the analysis found.
The newly constituted Federalism Commission, which absorbed the Commission on Federalism and two other legislative panels, in June voted to take over the Geomancer contract and negotiate an expansion of its scope to include the valuation of public lands statewide. Ivory does not sit on the Federalism Commission and, therefore, did not participate in this vote.
A copy of the broadened contract shows that Geomancer is due $600,000 from the Federalism Commission for developing a fully operational valuation model that covers all public lands in Utah. The company is slated to receive another $100,000 to maintain the appraisal tool across five years.
That’s slightly less costly than Ivory’s estimate last year that a statewide appraisal of public lands could cost about $750,000.
Though many public lands debates break along party lines, House Minority Leader Brian King said advocating for equitable federal compensation is largely a bipartisan issue in the Utah Legislature.
“Two-thirds of the land in the state of Utah is owned by the federal government, and none of it is taxable,” the Salt Lake City Democrat said. “And that does hamstring us in terms of raising revenue that could otherwise be taxed if it were held in private hands.”
King, who sat on the three-person selection panel that chose Geomancer for the initial $25,000 contract, said Wednesday that he believes the procurement process was fair and aboveboard. While there are legitimate questions to be asked about Ivory’s new job, he said employment conflicts are unavoidable in a citizen Legislature.
“We have these kinds of situations crop up with some frequency in the sense that, because we are a citizen Legislature, we’re all doing things that could relate to the stuff that we do in our regular lives,” King said.
With that in mind, King said he largely tries to avoid a direct hand in bills dealing with his vocation as a trial attorney.
Ivory last week announced he was resigning from the House to accept what was, at the time, an unspecified job that would monopolize his attention. In addition to the Geomancer job, he has accepted a position teaching at the Utah Valley University.
During the fall semester, he’ll be working as an adjunct professor teaching a three-credit hour course on constitutional studies, UVU spokesman Scott Trotter wrote in an email. The university pays adjuncts $3,065 per semester.
Ivory has written extensively about constitutional law, publishing a 2017 book called “Where’s the Line? How States Protect the Constitution.” The book, with a foreword by Utah Gov. Gary Herbert, delves into the “role state governments should play in controlling and limiting our out-of-control federal government."
Ivory has been a vociferous critic of an oversized federal government and has particularly targeted federal management of public lands. He is a leading proponent of conveying these vast reaches to state ownership.
In 2012, he sponsored and passed a bill requiring the federal government to transfer 30 million acres of public lands in Utah to the state. While the bill passed, the deadline for this transfer has long since passed without action.
Also, criticizing the U.S. Forest Service earlier this year, he compared Utah’s national woodlands to “a dynamite factory run by chain-smoking chimpanzees.”
During his nine years in the Utah Legislature, Ivory also has worked to protect victims of sexual abuse, last session shepherding through a bill that added college professors and instructors to the list of individuals who occupy positions of “special trust” — and therefore are subject to heightened penalties when convicted of sexually abusing a child.
"It has been one of the greatest honors of my life to serve in the Utah House," he said last week in a prepared statement announcing his resignation.
At the time, he said he was out of town and wouldn’t be available for interviews until later. He was at an Austin, Texas, conference of the American Legislative Exchange Council, where he serves as unpaid chairman of the Center to Restore the Balance of Government.
The Salt Lake County Republican Party will guide the process for choosing Ivory’s replacement. That name will be submitted to Herbert, who will make the appointment.
Scott Miller, chairman of the county GOP, said he’s hoping to convene party delegates in early October to take a vote on Ivory’s successor. Ivory left office with about 16 months left in his term.