This is Up and Down, where we give a brief thumbs up and thumbs down on the issues from the past week.
Taxpayers recently paid for a Burleigh County employee to spend an extra night in Las Vegas and rent a Cadillac XTS to attend a training conference. The employee flew Allegiant, which was among the cheapest flights, but it required additional expenses because the airline doesn’t have daily flights to Bismarck. Thanks to Burleigh County State’s Attorney Julie Lawyer, who investigated the use of taxpayer resources, the county was reimbursed $103 to settle a dispute over the unnecessary travel expenses. But Lawyer had estimated that the employee could have traveled to the conference for $400 to $731 less than he did. If Burleigh County doesn't have clear guidelines for employee travel, including best practices for booking air and ground travel, commissioners ought to update the policies. It defies common sense that a county employee would rent a luxury vehicle to travel what Lawyer estimated to be 28.5 miles for a business trip in a city with many ride-sharing services and public transportation options.
The federal government transferred the historic Figure Four Ranch to the Mandan, Hidatsa and Arikara Nation last week. The tribes requested the land be transferred from fee to trust status in 2011, but the request was deferred until May, when the Bureau of Indian Affairs approved the transfer after bureaucratic delays. The approval returns a portion of the lands originally included within the Fort Berthold Reservation boundaries under the Fort Laramie Treaty of 1851. MHA Chairman Mark Fox said the transfer is critical to economic development. In addition to energy development, the tribes hope to improve tourism at the ranch.
A recent Forum News Service story found that lawmakers who rent buildings to state agencies did not list the arrangement on their statement of interest, a filing required of all political candidates that lists business interests. It’s not improper for lawmakers to be landlords to government agencies, but the relationship should be disclosed to the public. It highlights the need to improve the statement of interest documents, which should be made available online and updated more than once every four years. In addition, it’s surprising that the state does not require a competitive bidding process for state agencies to rent space. Add that to the list of topics for an ethics commission to discuss.
The Bismarck-Mandan Symphony Orchestra performed its 25th consecutive Fourth of July concert Thursday at the state Capitol. Not only does the symphony perform for thousands, but the group coordinates the fireworks show and the logistics of the large event.