Letter: It is not possible to manage government money yourself – InForum

After reading the recent story in Adam Willis’ Fargo Forum ‘The Group Calls the Energy Council’, I doubt that I am the only one who is disappointed with the tolerance for conflict of interest in a new agency. State, the Clean Sustainable Energy Authority, whose appointed members come from the oil, gas and coal industries.

At the December 15 meeting, CSEA members declared conflicts of interest, but then proceeded to participate in discussions and vote on grants and loans to entities with which they were related. Even more disappointing is the behavior of the elected members of the Industrial Commission: Governor Doug Burgum, Attorney General Wayne Stenehjem and Agriculture Commissioner Doug Goehring. They were aware of the conflicts of the CSEA members, but took no corrective action and quickly approved the recommended grants.

It is not fair. Self-management of state money is not acceptable despite the consent of the CSEA and the North Dakota Industrial Commission.

I have served on numerous boards and commission members at local, state, regional and federal levels. I have worked with very small nonprofit charities as a board member and advisor, as well as with large institutions such as the Minneapolis Federal Reserve and the US Department of Agriculture. I have worked with teams to distribute millions of dollars and select worthy grant recipients. I have advised private organizations that regularly deal with conflicts of interest of members of their board of directors. The general practice in all of these contexts is that if an issue is put to a vote and one of the members has a conflict of interest, that member declares the conflict, leaves the meeting room and goes into the hallway (today ‘ (hui, he can leave the “zoom room”) and is not called back to the meeting until the discussion on this matter is over and the vote has been taken in his absence. This is how hundreds of private and public councils operate. In fact, the Council of Nonprofits advises all boards of directors to have conflict of interest policies that require disclosure and recusal. Finally, nonprofit organizations are also required to disclose information to the IRS regarding their conflict of interest policies on tax returns. It’s not difficult. People do it all the time. Public bodies should do the same.

I find it disturbing that the executive director of the ethics committee and members of the industrial committee are giving a green light to unethical behavior, not a stop light. There should be no tolerance within the state government for in-room discussions and voting when there is a conflict of interest, especially when millions of taxpayer dollars are at stake.

The confidence of the taxpayers and citizens of North Dakota in the ethics and correctness of heads of state and state institutions is sure to weaken when people acting on behalf of the state recommend that the money be disbursed. of the state in a selfish way. For example, members of a small town co-op food and fuel store would call back the board if they voted to give themselves free chicken feed. But, this is not chicken food here. It was $ 28 million in outright grants (no repayment expected) and $ 135 million in low-cost loans (no more than 2% interest). The total of this tranche of CSEA money is $ 163 million, and more is expected to be disbursed at subsequent Industrial Commission meetings. How much is 163 million dollars? For comparison, $ 163 million is higher than the combined budgets of Burleigh County ($ 30 million), Cass County ($ 40 million), Grand Forks County ($ 27 million) and the Ward County ($ 54 million).

For generations, the North Dakotas have applied the basic ethical principle that state officials should not be selfish in their dealings with people’s money. This principle was forgotten during recent meetings of the CSEA and the Industrial Commission. One person in the Forum’s history who stands out, however, is the anonymous representative of the UND’s Center for Energy and Environmental Resources who declined to vote for a nomination submitted by his own organization. Good for him and for UND EERC.

Sarah Vogel, lawyer and author of “The Farmer’s Lawyer”, was the Agriculture Commissioner of North Dakota from 1989 to 1997.

This letter does not necessarily reflect the opinion of the Forum editorial board or the property of the Forum.

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