Franc Kahn's Questionable Past Sets Up a Questionable Future for the Governors 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.
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.
Kahn's push backfired. Urged in part by Hinz and other family members, the Legislature ultimately agreed to restore the exemption.
The divide between families and the "self-advocates" on the council only deepened thanks to Kahn's second push.
When the Legislature considered shutting a state-run home for people with severe disabilities, family members argued that it was the only home their loved ones had ever known. But Kahn argued that the council needed to oppose institutions, on principle.
Again, Kahn's side lost.
The council's executive director resigned in the wake of those battles. And when the council failed to find a successor after a national search, Kahn stood at the ready.
The finalists for the job wound up being insiders: the council's chairman, Matthew Wangeman, and its policy analyst, Kahn.
It's not clear how extensive the council's background check on Kahn was. But it's clear it should have dug deeper. Here's what it could have learned about its new hire:
• Franc Kahn used to be Franc Dextra. Under that name, in Nevada, he ran into financial trouble, with at least $2,488 in judgments filed in courts. Some appear to still be active.
• The federal government filed liens saying Dextra/Kahn owes back taxes for 1993, 1994, and 1997, when he had an unpaid balance of $10,654. He racked up another $2,619 in liens after moving to Arizona.
• In 1998, after he'd already divorced twice, Franc Dextra legally changed his name to Franc Kahn.
Just as troubling are the misrepresentations on Kahn's résumé.
Kahn claimed to have been an "assistant town manager" in Camp Verde. He wasn't; the city has never had such a position. He did work there, but not as a manager.
Kahn also claimed to have worked as a programs administrator for the Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Department from 1994 to 1999. But police spokesman Jay Rivera says Kahn never worked for the department.
Kahn did get hired by the city of Las Vegas in 1996, but that was as a "life skills facilitator." Rivera tells me Kahn's job would have been limited to helping jail inmates obtain their GED and other educational opportunities. "He was not a sworn officer," Rivera says.
Several people tell me that Kahn showed them a badge and told them he used to be a chief of police. His résumé, too, claims he is a "life member" of the National Associations of Chiefs of Police. But the association told me that Kahn's membership expired in 2001.
And Kahn's career as a chief was short-lived at best. The only one of his résumés to cite a chief job claims he was "chief of police" of the Moapa Police Department, which serves the Moapa Indian Reservation in Nevada.
The reservation's current chief couldn't confirm or deny that Kahn had worked there, much less that he'd ever been police chief. There's been too much turnover, he said.
Finally, there's his college degree.
The degree is the biggest discrepancy between the résumé Kahn submitted to the Department of Economic Security, which oversees the council — and the one he tried to pawn off on me earlier this month.
Kahn's original résumé lists a bachelor's degree from LaSalle University. But LaSalle University in Philadelphia had no record of his enrollment.
Apparently, there's also a second LaSalle University — a Louisiana-based "diploma mill" that sold degrees online. After the feds shut down LaSalle in 1996, its founder did five years in federal prison.
Could that be the LaSalle Kahn "attended"? I don't know. But I do find it interesting that, in the altered résumé, Kahn makes no mention of LaSalle, or any a bachelor's degree. Instead, he skips ahead to his MBA, which he claims to be working on at Heriot-Watt University.
That university is based in Scotland. But its representative told me that Kahn is not in its MBA program — he's instead completing an "independent study" for "a master's in science in strategic planning."
And, the university confirmed, Kahn wasn't a student in September 2007, when he applied for the council's top job. He wouldn't begin his course of study for another year.
The council could have hired Kahn on the cheap. He was, after all, an internal candidate.
But the committee that negotiated his hiring — led by attorney Peri Jude Radecic of the Arizona Center for Disability Law — was feeling generous. It hired Kahn at $70,000.
One year later, it received special permission to give him a $5,000 raise, despite the state's wage freeze. When then-member Hinz complained, Radecic said that the raise was part of the package she'd negotiated, Hinz says. (Radecic did not return calls seeking comment. She did respond to questions over email, saying she was merely one of two people doing the negotiating, not the leader.)
Despite his sweet salary, Kahn's finances have hardly improved. Records show the following:
• The federal tax lien is still current.
• In October 2007, Kahn's Scottsdale landlord filed for a "forcible detainer" over unpaid rent. When Kahn didn't show up in court, the justice of the peace gave his landlord permission to change the locks.
• In the spring of 2008, Kahn's new landlord twice took Kahn to court in hopes of getting forcible detainers over unpaid rent.
• In March of this year, DCFS Trust, a company associated with DaimlerChrysler, filed an $8,717 judgment against Kahn in superior court. He has yet to satisfy the debt.
All these troubles might have gone unnoticed if it weren't for Jon Hinz. Earlier this year, I wrote a column about the council's strange treatment of Hinz (see "Dear Jon," January 8).
I wrote that the council attempted to "remove" Hinz from his volunteer position. The council's then-executive director claimed Hinz had threatened his life. Hinz was also accused of "speaking in opposition to the council at public meetings" thanks to his advocacy on the minimum-wage issue.
I reported the council's overreach at the time. But it wasn't until I discovered Kahn's financial history that things started to make sense.
Hinz had told me all along that he was skeptical of Radecic's role in hiring Kahn. And, by March 2008, Hinz had begun to raise hell at council meetings about conflicts of interest.
The reason? That spring, Kahn made a pitch for earmarking $50,000 for Radecic's non-profit agency, minutes show. When the council rejected the plan, Kahn then quietly included a $50,000 line item for Radecic's agency in the council's next budget.
Now, there's nothing unusual about a government agency for the disabled giving money to a non-profit that helps the disabled. But several members tell me they were concerned about the way it happened. No one from the Center for Disability Law ever made a proposal, they say. They question why Kahn would slip the money into the budget after their initial rejection.
Thanks to questions from Hinz, the money for Radecic's agency was taken out of the budget.
Then came the kicker.
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.
Not surprisingly, neither then-Governor Janet Napolitano nor her successor, Jan Brewer, has acted on the council's recommendation and officially removed Hinz.
But the damage was done. At the meeting, Hinz could hardly run for chairman — everyone believed he'd just been removed. That left only one candidate. And that candidate has been supportive of both Franc Kahn and the earmark for Radecic's legal agency.
In May, the council approved a scope of work for a "special education advocate," budgeted at $50,000. Members thought Radecic's organization was sure to make a proposal.
Then everything fell apart. The Legislature balked at renewal, public records showed serious problems in Kahn's past, and I started asking questions. Kahn suddenly announced his medical leave in an e-mail.
Kahn's e-mail is a hoot. In his paranoia, Kahn is Richard Nixon and Mother Teresa rolled into one. He blames problems at the agency on "personal attacks, lies, manipulation of the press, backdoor deals, and all manner of outrageous conspiracy, subterfuge, and intrigue." He adds, "I have also been targeted for personal attack and character assassination by this cabal of individuals because of my loyalty to the council body and my unwillingness to be swerved or manipulated." Yikes.
We'll see how much "loyalty" Kahn has to the council once the smoke clears. I know legislators who have some questions for him — and if he wants to keep playing the martyr, he'll have no choice but to answer them. Sick or not, Franc Kahn definitely has some explaining to do.
The legislators may want to start by asking where he got his undergraduate degree. Or why his agency produced a public record that had clearly been altered.
They may even want to ask about that federal tax lien. Kahn is being paid with tax dollars. It shouldn't be too much to ask that he also pay them.
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