Several questions are being asked of North Dakota Dakota State College of Science and its leadership.
The State Auditor’s Office reported that the college engaged in inappropriate activities surrounding a proposed career workforce academy, is not meeting TrainND Southeast program goals and is overstating program results.
Tony Grindberg, a Fargo city commissioner, is NDSCS’ Vice President of Workforce Affairs. The audit report stated Grindberg was directly involved with the procurement of consulting services from Flint Group without disclosing a conflict of interest.
“Mr. Grindberg is married to the Chief Financial Officer (Karen Grindberg) of Flint Group,” the report stated. “In fiscal year 2018, NDSCS paid $39,500 in contracted consulting fees to Flint Group, an advertised consulting group.”
President Dr. John Richman, NDSCS, wrote a partial response to the audit report. It was dated April 10. The audit report was made public April 15. A full response will follow in May.
Richman answered questions Tuesday, April 16 regarding the audit report, its findings and its outcome.
Daily News Media: You’ve said the decision to hire Flint Group, including what to pay the firm, was your own. What led you to choose Flint Group?
Dr. John Richman: We have worked with the Flint Group numerous times, here at the college and at the foundation, over a course of many years. We knew the quality of the staff, we knew the quality of work.
The CEO of Flint (Roger Reierson), I got to know for the first time many years ago. He was also serving (on the Board of Trustees of the North Central Association for the Higher Learning Commission). I knew Roger had a passion and a background in higher education.
When you look at the work that they’ve done, not just for our higher education entity, but for many higher education institutions in the region … I also knew that, because they’re located in Fargo, they would know the partners that we were working with, the K-12 schools we’re working with.
I also knew that they would know many of the potential donors that we were asking in our private fundraising campaign. And then, when I talked to Roger on the phone, what really sold me was his understanding of not just the (request for proposals), but he understood what we were trying to accomplish by moving forward this concept of a career workforce academy.
I could really tell he was willing to make a huge investment into seeing that continue to move forward. He understood the need for us to have that strategic plan, that first phase, planning document for this project to move forward.
It was really all those factors (that convinced me) that they were the firm that could do the best job. (Reierson) and I negotiated a price, wrote the contract, signed it and it was a done deal.
DNM: You said NDSCS has policies, procedures and a form in order to prevent a conflict of interest. You also said filling out a notification of business interest form is a formality. In a situation like this, how can the college account for a lack of full disclosure?
Richman: Had Tony included the Flint Group on that form, it would have only been a formality. If you understand the policy and the form, it’s really to help an employee to share with the administration of the college where their business interests might be in conflict. It’s kind of a disclosing of things that we might not know as an administration.
In this case, (through) our work with Flint over many years, we knew full well that Tony’s wife worked at Flint. We knew that before Tony was hired into his vice president’s role. The formality is, he could have put it on his form (but) we all knew it. There wasn’t anything being hidden. There wasn’t anything being disclosed.
DNM: NDSCS has said it did not attempt to obstruct or mislead the auditors. Would you describe how a situation like that could occur?
Richman: In my response and in the audit report, it quotes the question that we, NDSCS, was asked by the state auditor. Also in the audit report, and it quotes, the search parameters the auditor asked the North Dakota University System IT staff to run that search.
The question we were asked was a very subjective question. It would be difficult for a third party to respond to. Whereas the question that was asked to the University System IT staff was a very objective question that any IT specialist could read and know how to do the search.
Two different questions were asked to two different groups. Therefore, you’re going to get two different answers.
Trying to draw conclusions that because they’re different answers, that we were obstructing or misleading the auditor, is very frustrating to me.
DNM: You’ve said that the State Board of Higher Education, by approving the goals you submitted to them, did give approval to the career academy. How does the approval process work?
Richman: The board gave us approval to fundraise, up to $30 million for the development of a career academy.
If you read the minutes and the motion, it was clear that the intent of the board was to allow us to begin the fundraising portion. And the understanding that we had with the board is that we, NDSCS, would not be asking for state funds to fund any portion of the project.
The auditor’s taking a position that (the board) granted us permission to fundraise, but we couldn’t spend any money — to fundraise. I can’t explain it any (clearer).
We had approval to fundraise, understanding we wouldn’t be asking the state for any money to build the building. Plain and simple. That was what we’ve done and that’s the way we continue.
They’ve not given us permission to do the academy, just so I’m clear. They’ve given us permission to fundraise.
If we’re successful, then we could potentially have to go back to the board to ask for approval to move forward with the project after the fundraising is completed.
DNM: Chancellor Mark Hagerott (of the North Dakota University System) has written that he’s agreed to the auditors’ recommendations. How do you respond to that?
Richman: If you read his response, in the beginning of it, it states that neither he nor the system office oversees any of the college’s day-to-day operations. By not doing that, he does not have the level of knowledge to be able to specifically respond to any of the recommendations pertaining to NDSCS.
He responded from the system level, responding to how the system views the recommendations and what the system can do pertaining to the recommendations.
My response is from the college level, which is very (clearly) different than what the system does. Some people feel that we are in conflict with each other. I don’t view it that way.
I view the chancellor responded as a system-level CEO and I responded as a college-level CEO. We’re both right. Even though the appearance is when I disagree, he agrees. It’s like the two different questions.
You’re asking for a response from two different entities and just because they’re different, doesn’t mean they’re in disagreement.
DNM: Will there be any action taken during the remaining school year? I know recommendations were made. Can they be reviewed in that time? Will there be any discussion about personnel?
Richman: The sub-committee of the State Board of Higher Education, the audit committee, had a regular meeting scheduled for today (Tuesday, April 16). They adjusted their agenda yesterday and posted a revised one. On that agenda was the state auditor’s report on NDSCS as well as NDSCS’ response to date.
What we learned from that audit committee is they’ve allowed us, the college, until May 1 to develop and complete our response. As you know from our (current) response, I was unable to respond to several recommendations because I was denied access to certain employees.
Now that (the audit report’s) public, I have access to those employees. In fact, yesterday, in a staff meeting, I requested certain individuals to begin to develop those additional responses to those recommendations that I couldn’t respond to. We started this process yesterday.
By May 1, we are to provide to the audit committee our full response. Their next meeting is scheduled for May 15. They will review and consider the state audit report as well as our full response.
If a recommendation is coming from the audit committee, whatever recommendation comes forward would go to the full board. They have a meeting on May 30.
That’s the board’s process. The audit process, the state auditor is independent of the board. Our understanding is that the audit report will go to a legislative committee, the Legislative Audit and Fiscal Review Committee. My understanding is that they meet quarterly, with their next meeting in June. I don’t know that a date has actually been set.
There will be two different paths, two different processes for this audit to work through. The board procedure and the audit procedure itself.”
The full state auditor’s report is available online at https://www.nd.gov/auditor/2019-north-dakota-state-college-science-division-workforce-affairs. NDSCS’ current response is available online at ndscs.edu/auditresponse.
Daily News Media will continue to follow this story.
Editor’s Note: ‘Unsung Heroes’ within our communities are people who make an impact on our cities while steering away from the spotlight.
Chandra Langseth does not have a “typical day.”
Langseth, 29, is the agriculture and natural resources extension agent for the NDSU Extension of Richland County, North Dakota. A resident of Barney, North Dakota, she has worked for the Extension since November 2016.
“My day is driven by the seasons, Langseth explained. “Different times of the year have different priorities.”
Generally speaking, Langseth is responsible for spreading research-based information through the county. She serves farmers, homeowners — lawn and garden questions are common — and youth.
“This job has been a great opportunity to get to work in my own community, working in Wahpeton and out in the county,” Langseth added.
A graduate of North Dakota State University, Langseth has a bachelor’s degree in biological science and a master’s degree in soil science.
“My graduate resource focused on crop response and management options for saline soils,” according to Langseth’s biography for Richland County. “I am passionate about managing our soil resource for future farming generations and instilling a passion for agriculture and environmental sciences through the 4-H program.”
Langseth and her husband Mike farm corn and soybeans in Barney.
“Working with people and getting to know them is one of the most fulfilling parts of my job,” she said. “I enjoy building relationships. It’s really fun to work with everyone.”
Penny Seifert is a NDSU Master Gardener and a member of the Pretty Bloomers Garden Club. During her first meeting with Langseth, Seifert invited her to speak at a workshop on spring gardening.
“As a master gardener, I have attended a number of soils classes,” Seifert recalled. “Hers was the best one I’ve attended.”
Langseth has been an asset to the workshop, Seifert continued. Last year, she gave talks on integrated pest management and fruits for the area. Langseth also stepped in and served as the keynote speaker, delivering her pest management talk.
“This year she will be talking about weed identification and control. She’s so willing to do the extra work that these talks require,” Seifert said.
Langseth anticipates her spring will include many one-on-one interactions with residents.
“I’ll be answering diagnostic questions,” she continued. “The schedule is variable, so farmers can come in with a weed to identify or homeowners can come in with a branch to find out what disease it has. I get to play detective and I also get to know different people in the community.”
An only child, Langseth grew up in Bismarck with her parents, Dale and Jenny Heglund.
“I’ve always liked the sciences, from plant science to biology and even a little chemistry. If I hadn’t been working in agriculture, I would have taken a similar career, something to do with plants,” Langseth said.
Youth are the future as far as Langseth’s concerned. She considers her involvement in activities such as livestock judging and holding day camps for students as not only providing awesome opportunities, but being personally fulfilling.
“We want to teach about agriculture, its importance and the career opportunities,” Langseth continued. “A lot of kids in this area live on farms and are already engaged. We hope to continue to engage the kids from the non-farm backgrounds.”
North Dakota has only one Master Gardener Coordinator for its entire state, Seifert explained. Because of this, county agents are especially important.
“Chandra works hard to provide us with a great experience. I think we may have the best horticultural agent in the state,” Seifert said.
Jenny Heglund is an assistant state conservationist for the United States Department of Agriculture. In Langseth’s office is a photo of her as a girl, tagging along with her mother during a tour for farmers.
“I work in Richland County, but all of us agents certainly collaborate,” Langseth added. “It’s a huge network. I have a lot of really great colleagues in neighboring counties and here in Wahpeton, I work with a lot of great people.”
All in a not-so-typical day’s work.
GRAND FORKS — State Board of Higher Education Chairman Don Morton says the North Dakota University System is not forcing University of North Dakota President Mark Kennedy to resign as he waits to hear about a job opportunity.
Kennedy is the sole finalist for the presidency at the University of Colorado and would oversee four campuses in the system. There is a 14-day waiting period before the CU Board of Regents takes a final vote.
Although Kennedy has not formally resigned, a letter sent to him Friday by NDUS Chancellor Mark Hagerott said the school has accepted his “de facto notice of resignation” based on a statement Kennedy sent to the university community. In the statement, Kennedy said he is “excited for this new opportunity, but sorry to leave UND.”
Kennedy responded Saturday with a letter to Hagerott, saying he has not yet resigned.
Morton said he is unsure what the intent was behind Hagerott’s letter. He also said he isn’t sure if a resignation would save taxpayers from covering a buyout should Kennedy not receive an offer from CU.
“I think the chancellor wants to do what’s right and I think he just thought things were moving along faster,” Morton said. “I’m sure he didn’t think (the letter) would become a public record so fast — it was a personal email, which means someone sent it to someone in the media. Regardless, we are going to wait and see what happens.”
Hagerott would not speak to the Grand Forks Herald Monday. As chancellor, he works for the State Board of Higher Education, led by Morton.
Kennedy, who became president at UND in 2016, was a finalist last year for the presidency at the University of Central Florida. Some have expressed concern for what they say appears to be an eagerness to leave UND, although Morton said he sees it differently.
He said it is a compliment to the search committee that UND brought in talent that other schools want to recruit. He said Kennedy is responsible for his own career path and should test the marketplace if he wants to look at other opportunities.
Morton feels Kennedy will be welcomed back to UND if he’s not offered the position in Colorado.
“I think there’s a very vocal minority — the negative people are always very vocal,” he said. “But I know there’s a very strong support group, too. And we’re just going to do what’s right. He’s got a contract. We’re going to honor that contract. We’re going to maintain our integrity.”
Kennedy’s most recent contract was signed Aug. 13, 2018, both by Kennedy and Hagerott. It is in effect from July 1, 2018, through June 20, 2020, and includes specifics on his annual salary ($365,000) and other benefits. It includes two special conditions: Use of a state vehicle or mileage reimbursement for business use of a personal vehicle, and a requirement that he reside in the residence provided by for the UND president.
There are no conditions written in the contract for either side to break the agreement nor are there specifics for advance notice of contract termination.
Last week, Kennedy was asked if he may be breaking his contract with UND if he leaves for the job in Colorado.
“I’m not a lawyer, and I don’t think by anybody’s judgment I would be breaking a contract. Nor would I believe there would be any grounds to say that from a legal perspective,” he said. “That said, I’m not a lawyer. If it were something that is not acceptable, I’m quite confident the University of Colorado would not be comfortable with this path.”
Morton said forcing Kennedy’s hand in resignation would make the school unappealing to future candidates.
“We want what’s best for President Kennedy and we want what’s best for UND. … If we don’t treat him right, we will not have a great slate of candidates,” he said.