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.

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.

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Sarah Fenske
Contact: Sarah Fenske