A state senator whose son was hired to direct a southwestern Utah economic development effort — at $80,000 a year through a legislative-funded grant — says he actually supported someone else for the job.

Sen. Dennis Stowell, R-Parowan, said: "I had no idea, I never dreamed" that his son Kelly Stowell, 26, would apply for the job when Sen. Stowell supported a $125,000 grant that pays the top post's salary. The grant, funded by the 2008 Legislature, goes to the Center for Education, Business and the Arts, located in Kanab. Kanab is part of Sen. Stowell's district.

In fact, said Sen. Stowell, he had already written a letter of support for a Cedar City economic development professional, "with 25 years of experience," who was applying for the CEBA executive director's job before he found out that his son was going to apply for the same job this summer.

"It put me in a difficult position. What is a father supposed to do?" said the senator. "I had to call (the Cedar City person) and tell her that my son was applying for the same job. I just stayed silent on the whole thing after that. I worried that we could be accused of nepotism."

And the Stowells and the CEBA board are being accused of just that.

Jeff Zander says that he also applied for the job, which pays $80,000 for one year only, with incentives that could equal another $20,000. (The job contract is for just 12 months, but the executive director also fundraises, and could raise money for his own continued salary.)

In an e-mail to the Deseret News, Zander says he has the academic and professional qualifications that a job like running the CEBA should require — qualifications Kelly Stowell does not have.

In addition, an online story in The Spectrum, a St. George newspaper, about Kelly Stowell's appointment has a reader comment attached that says Kelly Stowell got the job because of his father's political influence.

Zander says there are simple standards for economic development jobs, which include an appropriate university degree, previous experience in the field and certification by an international professional organization.

Zander said he found it odd that the CEBA job advertisement, listed on the Dixie College site, had no qualifications listed when he viewed it — while all other Dixie job openings did.

"You would think CEBA would be looking to hire as its very first executive director someone with professional economic development credentials, especially for the price tag of $100,000 for the first year's salary. In Kanab, Utah, that money is nothing to sneeze at," said Zander.

Sen. Stowell said he, too, was a bit surprised when the CEBA board did not pick the Cedar City person he recommended. "I had heard that she was first after the first round of interviews." And the senator said that he was also surprised when his son told him that CEBA officials had asked him to send in a resume and apply for the job.

"I would have thought they (the CEBA board) would have wanted someone with 25 years experience, not someone just out of college" like his son. "But later I learned that they didn't want someone to give up their career position for just a one-year job; and that they knew Kelly well from the work he had already done for Dixie" State College, said the senator.

Kelly Stowell did not return calls for comment.

Kelly Stowell graduated from the Utah Valley University several years ago with a combined single degree in business management and psychology. He has interned with several politicians, including his father, and at the State of Utah School and Institutional Trust Lands Administration. He currently is working for the Board of Regents in a 30-hour-a-week job as executive director of the student organization and, his father said, as a recruiter in northern Utah for Dixie State College, trying to get students to enroll in the St. George school.

Dixie State College is also sponsoring the CEBA, and a vice president at the school, Christina Schultz, is the chairwoman of CEBA.

Schultz told the Deseret News that Kelly Stowell was the unanimous choice of the seven-member CEBA board, that he meets or exceeds qualifications the board set for the job. Being Sen. Stowell's son "was not in the equation" in hiring Kelly Stowell, she said.

"(Kelly Stowell) knows the legislative process very well," said Schultz, through his work in the Utah Legislature and in Congress as an intern for Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah. And a part of the CEBA job will be lobbying the 2009 Legislature for $3 million to build the first phase of a new CEBA building, she added.

CEBA's goal is to revitalize the Kane County economy with educating residents for modern jobs, increased tourism, conventions and retreats, and with filmmaking. A number of Hollywood Westerns were shot there in the 1950s and 1960s.


E-mail: bbjr@desnews.com