- Associated Press - Thursday, January 12, 2017

The Bismarck Tribune, Bismarck, Jan. 11

Conservative, open-minded approach best

The Legislature was right to adopt a revenue forecast for the 2017-19 biennium that’s lower than provided by former Gov. Jack Dalrymple last month. Legislators know revenues will be tight and it makes sense to take a conservative approach as the session begins.

There will be a revenue update in March and that leaves legislators with time to make adjustments. The major money bills usually aren’t approved until later in the session. So the Legislature will still be able to tighten or loosen the purse strings.

The revenue forecast approved by the House and Senate appropriations committees last week estimates more than $146 million less coming into the state’s coffers in sales taxes and a reduction of more than $19.6 million in income tax collections. For oil and gas production in 2017-19, legislators expect a $48 per barrel oil price for North Dakota crude, down from the $51- to $53-per-barrel range used in Dalrymple’s proposal. If the plan clears the Legislature, the projection of bottoming out and holding at 900,000 barrels per day for the next two years would be maintained.

The more conservative revenue forecast goes along with Gov. Doug Burgum’s call for a more efficient government. He’s already told his Cabinet members and other state officials that he’s not interested in any budget increases. He promises to release proposals in the coming days and weeks. While legislators are interested in what he has to propose, they aren’t waiting on him.

One resolution filed on Monday would have voters decide in 2018 whether to abolish the state treasurer’s office. Voters rejected the idea twice before, but Sen. Tim Mathern, D-Fargo, revived the idea last year when he challenged Republican Treasurer Kelly Schmidt in the general election. Schmidt easily won re-election. The resolution has Republican sponsors, including Rep. Mike Nathe, R-Bismarck, along with Mathern. If approved by the Legislature, the resolution would require a 2018 general election vote. If voters approve the resolution, a second resolution would go into effect. That resolution would require North Dakota Legislative Management study the changes in state law needed to make the transition and how to parcel out the duties of the office to other agencies. The office would be closed in 2021.

Nathe cited the state’s tight fiscal situation and Burgum’s call for efficiencies and an effort to reinvent state government as factors behind the resolution. Schmidt, who has steadfastly defended the office, said voters have refused to eliminate the office in the past and the office serves important functions. The savings from the change wouldn’t be seen for a number of years. The office has eight employees and whether they would be eliminated or transferred is unknown at the moment.

It’s important discussions like this are held now, even if the results are years away. You can’t reinvent government overnight. Debating issues like the treasurer’s office might reveal different approaches. Maybe instead of being abolished the office needs more responsibilities. A good review is in order. More efficient government doesn’t always mean cutting budgets and reducing staff. It can involve a better return on the dollar and finding ways to do more with the staff we have.

Hopefully, the treasurer’s debate will be one of many as the Legislature and the governor look for ways to improve government and the state.

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Minot Daily News, Minot, Jan. 12

Gray area in liquor laws may need attention

City and state officials may find themselves needing to have a look at and make adjustments to laws governing liquor sales. Or so it seems from a couple of cases advancing through the courts in Minot.

It seems that a core issue is what constitutes a “sale.” If one, for example, makes a donation and subsequently is given a beer, has it been a sale? Does repeating that action several times then affect the legal definition? Does a witness - or witnesses - have to attest that they were not given a beer at a venue or event and told they must make a donation? What if one is at an event, makes a substantial donation and then has access to numerous beverages? Must there be specific delineation of rules of “pay” for an unlicensed provider to be guilty of a violation?

Other aspects include service hours. Can you be given a beer subsequent to making a donation after the hours when alcohol “sales” are legal? What about age requirements?

Currently, state and local laws don’t appear to address situations such as these that are in the court system - they may now exist in a gray area. While courts can set precedent in interpreting these laws, given authorities assert situations like these are increasingly common, perhaps lawmakers should step in and clarify intent and application.

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Williston Herald, Williston, Jan. 8

Pedantic language parsing tries to hide the truth

Simply denying the clear meaning of a word or phrase does not change that meaning.

Late last month, Williston Public School District 1 Superintendent Michael Campbell told Jeannette LaFleur, the principal of Bakken Elementary, that he was going to recommend the school board vote on her dismissal unless she submitted a letter of recognition.

When she submitted a letter that claimed she was being forced to resign, he rejected that, and wrote to her that unless she submitted a more satisfactory letter he would bring his recommendation to the board. If she did write a letter he approved of, he wrote, he would recommend the board waive liquidated damages, which requires educators who resign before the end of their contract to pay the district 10 percent of their salary.

Asking the board to vote on her dismissal would have had serious consequences for her career, and she would have been required to notify the state Education Standards and Practices Board.

We do not know whether the complaints Campbell brought to her were justified, nor whether the right decision was made. As superintendent, Campbell has the right to a staff of principals he feels he can rely on and whose performance he is happy with.

But one thing is clear: Telling someone that unless they submit a letter of resignation, you will ask the school board to vote on their dismissal - a vote that would likely go against that person, given your recommendation - you are forcing them to resign.

As an educator, Campbell should know that no matter how much someone might want to deny the implication of something they said the words and phrases that person used make their true meaning clear. In fact, by denying the clear meaning that person loses credibility.

This is the second high-profile resignation issue so far this year. As Campbell only started his job during the summer, we want to give him the benefit of the doubt.

He wasn’t the person who hired LaFleur, and started only a month before James Dykes, the activities director who resigned after claiming he wasn’t getting the help he needed, was hired.

It is quite possible that if he had been involved in both hiring decisions from the start, he would have chosen different people.

This is not about the merits of either case, however. This is about the doublespeak Campbell used in his correspondence with LaFleur.

To claim that the ultimatum he gave her was anything other than forcing her to resign is, at best, pedantic. At worst, it implies that he is not interested in the meaning of the words he chooses, which would be a worrying thought, given the power a school district superintendent holds.

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