At least four commissioners at the Governor’s Office of Youth, Faith, and Family have ties to the nonprofit organization notMYkid, which was founded by the state agency's former director, Debbie Moak, and which was awarded a grant that will total almost $600,000.
Additionally, Samuel Burba, who replaced Moak to become the interim head of GOYFF, worked at notMYkid for more than five years as its director of prevention programs.
NotMYkid co-founder Dr. Mark Rohde currently sits on the Parents Commission on Drug Education and Prevention, the agency committee that awarded the grant. Also on the nine-person commission is Joseph LeDuc, a Scottsdale police commander who has been a contract speaker with notMYkid; and Lisa Lannon and Kristine M. Thompson, who have volunteered to organize the nonprofit’s annual gala and fundraiser.
Rohde and a spokesman for the governor said conflicts of interest were handled appropriately.
Moak was the director of GOYFF for over two years until she announced her resignation unexpectedly on June 27. She had recused herself from the decision-making process when notMYkid was a candidate for the agency’s grants.
She founded notMYkid in 1999 with her husband, former congressional candidate Steve Moak, and Rohde, a psychologist. The nonprofit aims to prevent negative youth behaviors by educating kids and families about the dangers of substance abuse. NotMYkid's grant will be awarded via reimbursements of $199,383 a year for up to three years, and the first installment has been received.
Rohde, who serves on the nonprofit's board of directors, said that “firewalls” within the Parents Commission prevented a conflict of interest when distributing funds.
He did not evaluate grant applicants from Maricopa County, including notMYkid. Instead, Rohde read and rated organizational candidates in a separate, catchall category which included rural counties, Tucson-based organizations, and organizations working in Native American communities.
“When last year's grant applications came into GOYFF, the commissioners were asked to identify potential conflicts-of-interest and any commissioner with a connection to a Maricopa County applicant (like myself) were assigned to review applications from Tucson, the rural counties, and the Native American communities,” Rohde wrote in an email to Phoenix New Times.
Patrick Ptak, a spokesman for Arizona Governor Doug Ducey, said that the commission members “with substantial ties to notMYkid” were assigned to the alternative cohort of grant applicants.
For his part, Rohde said he's grateful that procedures were intended to guard against any perceived conflict of interest.
“While I'm sure that those firewalls were in place to protect the integrity of the process (and the administration), I was pleased to see the level of transparency at GOYFF because, frankly, my reputation was/is also at stake,” he wrote.
Joseph LeDuc, a commander in the Scottsdale Police Department, was a contract speaker for notMYkid until January 2016, according to the nonprofit’s CEO, Aimee Runyon. A page on notMYkid’s website describing LeDuc’s role related to curriculum development for the organization is no longer available online.
A spokesman for the Scottsdale Police Department said all questions related to LeDuc’s work on the Parents Commission are being directed to the governor’s communications office.
According to notMYkid’s website, Kristine Thompson served on the women’s auxiliary board of the organization from 2013 to 2015. Lisa Lannon is also listed as a current women’s auxiliary board member, but Runyon said Lannon has not been actively involved for the past two years. Lannon and Thompson did not respond to requests for comment.
Rohde said that women’s auxiliary board members such as Lannon and Thompson are not involved in management or oversight decisions for notMYkid. The auxiliary board is responsible for the nonprofit’s annual gala, according to Runyon.
Angela Ducey, the governor's wife, is also listed as a notMYkid auxiliary board member. At the nonprofit’s 2015 gala and fundraiser, which celebrated the group’s 15th anniversary, the governor congratulated the Moaks and Rohde in a video message.
The Moaks made a fortune with a company, First Check, which manufactures drug-testing kits. They sold the company in 2007 for $25 million. Despite its nonprofit status, notMYkid functioned as a de facto marketing tool, critics said, for their drug-testing business.
Ducey appointed Debbie Moak to run GOYFF shortly after he took office in 2015. Moak was a board member of notMYkid as recently as 2013, according to the organization’s IRS filings, and worked closely with opponents of a marijuana-legalization ballot initiative, Proposition 205, last fall. Moak did not respond to a request for comment.
Ptak, the spokesman for the governor’s office, told New Times that the grant-awarding process was impartial and fair.
“In effect, commissioners that may have had substantial connection to notMYkid, did not see, review or comment on any application in the urban review category including but not limited to the application submitted by notMYkid,” he wrote in an email.
With Moak out, Burba is now the interim director of GOYFF after two years as the agency’s director of communications. He worked for notMYkid for over five years as the organization’s director of prevention programs before joining GOYFF in 2015.
Runyon, who became the CEO of notMYkid in 2014, told New Times in an email, “It was understood that in order to be above reproach no notMYkid employee was to be in communication with anyone at GOYFF or the Parent’s Commission during the completive grant process.”
Runyon added that “at no time since the inception of the Ducey administration did anyone in my office or my Chairman (Seth Leibsohn) or any board member (to my knowledge) ever speak with Debbie Moak or anyone at GOYFF about any pending grants — we all wanted to respect the delicacies of any potential or perceived conflicts and neither wanted to put anyone at GOYFF in an awkward position nor ourselves.”
GOYFF, a creation of former governor Jan Brewer, oversees task forces and commissions on substance abuse and violence prevention. The Parents Commission within the state agency is made up of nine members with two-year terms who are recommended by GOYFF and appointed by the governor. According to its charter, the commission “funds programs that will increase and enhance parental involvement and will increase education about the serious risks and public health problems caused by the abuse of alcohol and controlled substances.”
A former member of the Parents Commission, Dr. Dennis Embry, said he was never aware that there were four commissioners connected to notMYkid. “That was never disclosed to me,” he said.
Embry, a Tucson-based psychologist and president of the Paxis Institute, criticized the commission for being unconcerned with science-based methods of fighting substance abuse. He added that the commission’s deliberative process felt like “dog-and-pony shows.”
He told New Times, “It was like we were presented with fait accompli: ‘This is what we’re doing.’”
Embry’s two-year term on the Parents Commission ended this year. He said Moak’s leadership of GOYFF was unmistakable during meetings of the Parents Commission, where Moak often controlled dialogue and presentations.
“She was the alpha wolf,” Embry said.
Rohde emphasized that having multiple commission members who also volunteer with notMYkid is nothing unusual.
“I am not very surprised that people committed to community service would serve on multiple nonprofit and governmental boards,” Rohde wrote. “It is my impression that the conflict-of-interest process worked like it was supposed to and that grant awardees were selected based upon the quality of the programming that was offered.”
Runyon was unequivocal when asked if GOYFF's multiple commissioners with notMYkid affiliations showed a revolving door between the state agency and Moak's nonprofit.
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“The prevention community is not that large,” she wrote. “There has been no revolving door between notMYkid and GOYFF.”
Ray Stern contributed reporting.
You can read Debbie Moak's May 5, 2016, letter of recusal below.