- Associated Press - Thursday, September 1, 2016

BISMARCK, N.D. (AP) - The Bismarck Tribune, Bismarck, Sept. 1, 2016

Public needs audit clearly explained

The governor’s office and auditor’s office have locked horns over the audit of the Department of Human Services.

The audit released recently found that DHS didn’t properly monitor or suspend providers and notify parents “after confirmed knowledge of activities that jeopardize the health and safety of children.”

Auditors reviewed 58 provider licenses out of about 1,600 licensed providers that care for more than 39,000 children statewide, trying to include at least one provider from each of the state’s 53 counties. There were strong accusations in the report, with the auditor saying providers were allowed to operate under memorandum of understanding agreements. Some operators working under these agreements had been cited for concerns and needed to make corrections.

Human Services and the governor’s office responded to the report this week. Human Services reported that if a staff member had been the focus of concern and removed from the facility, then they were allowed to continue operating. The governor’s office said the auditor’s office didn’t dig deep enough during the investigation, otherwise the auditor’s office would have found how the concerns had been addressed.

Two Republican offices led by lame ducks, Gov. Jack Dalrymple and Auditor Robert Peterson, are in a rare public dispute. Both have good reputations, who’s right?

The auditor’s office has a history of taking a fair approach to audits and it’s not the first time it has ruffled the feathers of another officeholder. The most important issue here is the safety of those involved in the programs, especially children. Among the serious findings of the audit were “activities including illegal drug use by the provider, restricted persons being present at the facility, inappropriate touching from adults, inappropriate sexual play between children, and other concerns of supervision and discipline.”

The Tribune isn’t accusing Human Services and the governor’s office of downplaying the audit, but it’s vital that the situation is clearly explained to the satisfaction of all parties. Dalrymple argues the audit gives an incomplete picture of the situation.

Rep. Kathy Hogan, D-Fargo, who chairs the Legislature’s Human Services Committee, compares removing the offending staff member to taking a teacher in trouble out of a classroom. The school continues to operate. Because of due process, there’s also a question of when parents should be notified of the questions surrounding a staffer.

The audit’s too important to be allowed to become bogged down in he said, she said arguments. If a third party is needed to sort through the audit, for example a legislative committee, that needs to be done. The state needs to guarantee the right thing is being done for our children.

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Minot Daily News, Minot, Sept. 1, 2016

Ramps to nowhere

While there is a definite split between those who believe the downtown parking ramps are critically important and those who believe the entire plan is a waste of money, that seminal debate is not the most eyebrow raising. After all, proponents of each position can make viable arguments about whether or not downtown can be re-energized.

No, the more frustrating part of the controversial development plan is the recent revelation that actually finishing the exterior of the parking ramps is not covered by the developer and, as revealed this week, will cost some quarter-million dollars. Arguably most frustrating is that just a few weeks ago, Minot city council members themselves seemed unsure if the cost over-runs were finished with or if taxpayers would be on the hook for yet more money.

Huh? The city doesn’t know if there will be more expenses? That doesn’t seem like the most competent position in a deal that doesn’t seem to have been so competently agreed to in the first place. At the very least, it seems fair to say that the development agreement might not have been the best negotiated plan the city could have engaged. After all, most contracts pretty much have the financial aspects laid out before execution.

So, who is to blame for this sad excuse of a deal? It’s hard to pin responsibility on one individual, even after Minot Daily News’ recent exhaustive look at the genesis and development of the plan and agreement. It can’t be the fault of the developer. The developer bears no responsibility for public interest in the agreement. Like any private interest, it seeks to get the best deal it can for entirely transparent motives. It is the City of Minot’s responsibility to spend taxpayer money wisely. So, then who should be held accountable? Sadly, it’s a large group of people: the city council seated when the initial deal was inked, the city council that was seated when the deal was renegotiated and the professional staffs that reviewed both agreements.

As is often the case when government at any levels is involved in a fiasco, there are so many people responsible that no one ends up actually being responsible. Rinse. Repeat. Thus is your government at work.

At least this week we learned that the city council can choose from a variety of colors to complete the ramps. While nice, that’s unlikely to appease the taxpayers who have been on the hook for a project with a nebulous price tag.

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