Franc Kahn's Questionable Past Sets Up a Questionable Future for the Governor’s Council on Developmental Disabilities

Franc Kahn isn't exactly what you'd expect of a guy running a government agency.

He's been divorced three times. He legally changed his name at age 33, for reasons that are unclear. He owes the federal government $16,645 in back taxes. He has a history of stiffing creditors.

Really, Kahn, 44, is exactly the kind of guy we shouldn't be trusting with an agency that advocates for one of Arizona's most vulnerable populations — not to mention one that gets $1.2 million a year in tax revenue.

Franc Kahn, executive director of the Governor's Council on Developmental Disabilities, has a life story more complicated than his official résumé.
Franc Kahn, executive director of the Governor's Council on Developmental Disabilities, has a life story more complicated than his official résumé.

But trust him we have — likely because of the impressive résumé he used to get hired as executive director of the Governor's Council on Developmental Disabilities. I've uncovered a biography of Kahn, however, that doesn't quite match his official résumé.

As it turns out, in fact, Franc Kahn doesn't have an official résumé. He's got two of 'em.

First, there's the one he submitted in 2007, when he was hired to run the council.

Then, there's what appears to be a hastily produced revision, one with more mumbo-jumbo and fewer details. I got this one on June 30 from Kahn after using public-records law to demand that he turn over the résumés of the finalists for his job.

On his new and improved résumé, Kahn had removed all mention of an undergraduate degree (probably because he doesn't have one) and obscured the details of some employment dates and titles (probably because they weren't accurate).

My background check suggests that the real Franc Kahn — financial problems up the wazoo, sketchy educational history — is a guy whose life story doesn't neatly fit on a single sheet of paper.

The story of one man's deceptions and omissions may not seem like a big deal. But Kahn's biography matters. After all, he's been entrusted with tax dollars earmarked for bettering the lives of the state's developmentally disabled population.

Now, I had questions about his agency's work even before his résumé fell apart. But even if I give Kahn the benefit of the doubt, and concede that the agency functioned properly under his leadership at one point, there's no way it's doing so today.

The state legislators I spoke with are so troubled by Kahn's misrepresentations that they failed to renew his agency's mandate before the legislative session ended July 1.

That has major implications, thanks a quirk of Arizona law called the "sunset review": In efforts to keep government from becoming too big, we force agencies to regularly justify their existence to the Legislature or risk termination.

When the Legislature failed to act on the council's renewal, the council was forced to shut its doors.

Legislators say they can't remember any agency actually being "sunsetted." The process is usually more about asking questions and demanding changes. No one is sure what happens next, especially if that agency (like Kahn's) gets its funding from the federal government. Legislators told me they'd like to start over with a new council in the next six months — but no one is sure whether they have the right to do so. The situation is enormously messy.

So what was Kahn's response to it all?

He went on medical leave.

I'd never heard a word about "health problems" before Kahn announced his immediate leave on July 1. I find it fishy that a day after he turned over his altered résumé, and on the very day the Legislature allowed his agency to sunset, he suddenly was too sick to work — much less "in great medical risk," as Kahn claimed in an e-mail.

Kahn isn't responding to my requests for comment. Nor are his assistant and public relations guy. I have no idea whether anyone is still being paid. The whole agency is in limbo.


The Governor's Council on Developmental Disabilities is a weird hybrid. Technically a state agency, it's funded entirely by the federal government.

But there's nothing weird about its purpose: bettering the lives of people with disabilities. That means advocacy for disabled adults, fighting for better education for disabled children, and linking families with available services. The agency's "board of directors" is a council of 25 people, at least 60 percent of whom are required by federal law to be disabled or the relative of a disabled person.

In 2005, the council hired Kahn as a community liaison, a part-time job. He worked his way up to its "policy analyst," a sort of liaison with the Legislature.

As an analyst, Kahn pushed the council to take a stand on two hot-button issues.

The first was minimum wage. Giving disabled adults jobs was thought to be more important than giving them big paychecks, so workshops had long enjoyed an exception to Arizona's minimum-wage law.

But when voters approved a higher minimum-wage law in 2006, the new law didn't include the exemption.

Workshop operators and family members of disabled adults saw the missing exemption as an oversight that needed a quick fix. Without it, some workshops would have to close almost immediately.

But the council, at Kahn's urging, saw a battle to be fought.

To the consternation of many people in the disabled-services community, the council voted to oppose the exemption. Jon Hinz, the father of a young woman with Down syndrome and a then-member of the council, says that Kahn pushed the council to take that stand. If the workshops had to close, Kahn argued, so be it.

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6 comments
John
John

This guys name should be Franc Con. There is alot more info out there on this guy. How he ever got into a position to appropriate tax payers money is beyond me. For the sake of all Arizona taxpayers please investigate the next individual a little further to avoid the same huge mistake of hiring another liar , con artist , and all around buffoon. Thanks to the editor for exposing this idiot.

Charles
Charles

We are considering that the Governor's Council is different from the Division of Developmental Disabilities that actually pick vendors to provide care, are we not? It's not obvious from the article.

GRivkin
GRivkin

Dear Sarah,

I read your article in The New Times regarding Franc Kahn and the Governor�s Council on Developmental Disabilities and I wondered why a celebrated journalist like you would want to put your name on a piece such as this. I am shocked and surprised by the tone which has a decidedly malicious edge. The impression left on me by your writing is not, I believe, the intended or perhaps typical effect. The poison darts you�ve launched in regards to this man�s past are giving me pause to wonder about the person who fired them, rather than what the target did to deserve it. Your insensitivity to what was likely a painfully rocky personal history your impression that changing one�s name in a court of law is somehow criminal gives me the distinct impression that there�s more to the matter than meets the eye in the New Times.

The article doesn�t depict a specific issue you�re attempting to illuminate. I get a whiff of a political agenda when you mention the �battle� Mr. Kahn �spearheaded.� My limited understanding of the minimum wage exemption is Mr. Kahn is of the opinion these workshops should be required to pay the same minimum wage to persons with developmental disabilities as those without. I don�t see why that should be a bad thing, even if the workshops can�t operate. Who wouldn�t rather see a hardworking individual get paid what they�re worth? I understand the plight of the business owner who can�t afford a higher labor bill, but in a capitalist society that�s his miscalculation.

The only other issue I�m picking up on is why was this supposedly invaluable government agency �sunsetted?� The best I can come up with based on your writing is the equivalent of someone forgetting to pay the light bill. The mandate ran out because �Legislature failed to act�. �Legislators [would like to] start over in the next six months,� so other than the former employees of the counsel needing to file for unemployment benefits, no harm no foul? I�m not sure where you�re going with this.

I�m left thinking then about Mr. Hinz, whom you say has a daughter with Down Syndrome, as though that phrase automatically gives him martyr credits. Given that most of the information about Mr. Kahn�s past was largely unsubstantiated except by your meager search of public record, I can hardly believe anything you assert about this fellow either. What sticks out for me, however, is that �Hinz had threatened� a colleague�s life and that the �council voted to remove Hinz from his seat.� I can extrapolate that you�ve met Mr. Hinz a few times. Out of curiosity, have you actually met Mr. Kahn as well? Maybe if you had you would have thought better of publicizing his marriage track record and jumped to conclusions about why he changed his name or has a few outstanding debts.

In the next piece I read from your pen I would love to see some cited fact or feel illuminated on a particular political issue. If I�m right the intended tone of this piece was to incite drama or create an image of edginess and a discerning reader will certainly see through it.

Denise
Denise

I have special needs children and my husband is a disabled vet. He is also a volunteer on the Governor's Council. Frank Kahn aside, I want to state that on the local level, at least in our area, the Gov Council has been very busy advocating and alerting self-advocates and families to issues. We have been strongly encouraged to contact our legislators about issues, but have never felt forced to make our opinion fit the mold. It was the contact, not the specific message, that was encouraged. Volunteerism is also highly encouraged by the Council. Our area has logged an impressive number of volunteer hours from already overburdened families and self-advocates who believe that community service benefits us all. I sincerely hope that the misdoings at the top do not negate all of the important work done at the local levels.

Sarah Fenske
Sarah Fenske

Hi Balance - I don't normally respond to online comments, but you raise a good question about an issue I was forced to breeze by in this story thanks to space limitations. I previously did an entire column about the charges against Hinz, which you can read here: http://tinyurl.com/nvyovr. I didn't have the room to rehash the controversy in this week's story, but anyone who'd like to know how I reached the conclusion that the charges were "extremely dubious" should go back and read the column from January, which examines them in depth.

Balance
Balance

Sarah -

"Hinz decided to run for chairman of the council. But before members could vote at the November 2008 meeting, the council actually voted to remove Hinz from his seat! The vote came with no warning and a set of extremely dubious charges."

What were the charges? What made them "dubious" (other than your claim)? Was the vote unanimous? Did you speak with any of the council members regarding their vote on this set of "extremely dubious" charges? If not, why?? If so, what did they have to say??

Investigative journalism is great, but where is the balance? What kind of journalism is this?

Let the merits of the facts speak for themselves, please. The piece was well written enough as it was without your personal, agenda-driven embellishment.

 
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