A draft of Wednesday's main editorial.
Perhaps Jeff Sayer’s private-sector background — including his 2003 bankruptcy filing — makes him better attuned to the risks of starting and sustaining a business.
But Sayer’s unflinching honesty and candor certainly makes him a model for others in the public sector.
On the front page of Sunday’s Statesman, in a profile written by Bill Roberts, the state Commerce Department director discussed this bankruptcy, in excruciating detail. He described the damage it wreaked on his career and his personal life — culminating in the night in 2004 when his first wife told him to leave the house. Which he did, with $50 in his pocket. “I spent that $50 on a hotel room, and I started the next day and I rebuilt from scratch.”
Sayer’s story carries newsworthiness and invites scrutiny, because of his position in Gov. Butch Otter’s Cabinet. As Commerce Department director, confirmed during the 2012 legislative session, Sayer’s job is to tout Idaho’s business climate, Idaho’s exportable goods, and Idaho’s vacation amenities.
Public officials can most quickly violate the public trust by breaking the law or misspending taxpayer money. Neither of these yardsticks apply in Sayer’s case. He landed on the wrong side of the dotcom collapse and the post-9/11 economic downturn. While he probably used bad judgment in living beyond his means, this was not a criminal act.
His story humanizes the dotcom downturn — and the subsequent and deeper Great Recession — that has afflicted so many Idahoans. It should serve as a reminder to anyone in public service: People can get caught on the wrong side of a bubble, sometimes very suddenly.
Some will question why Sayer’s bankruptcy was not aired during the confirmation process — especially since he had been open about it with Otter beforehand. However, Sayer has told a painful, personal story, at a time when he had nothing to gain from the telling. Keep that in mind the next time another public official stonewalls about some smaller matter, strictly out of craven self-interest.