Archive for the ‘Transparency’ Category
This morning, the Stearns County commissioners unanimously approved a resolution supporting “a bill requiring a state audit of public spending related to refugee resettlement.” Predictably, the special interest organizations that support writing a blank check to pay for refugee resettlement programs were upset.
For instance, #UniteCloud spoke “against the bills, calling them anti-refugee and potentially costly.” #UniteCloud’s about us page indicates that they’re a misinformation organization. That’s revealed by them saying “Often we allow misinformation and dehumanizing stereotypes to make untrue assumptions of our neighbors.” That, friends, is projection. Remember that the commissioners voted on a resolution that supported legislation that promotes transparency.
You’ve got to be either paranoid or dishonest to accuse citizens demanding transparency of being bigots. I’m leaning more towards dishonest than paranoid.
According to Commissioner DeWayne Mareck, “the bill is “‘all about transparency’ and any use of taxpayer money should require an audit.” That’s pretty noncontroversial. So is the text of the legislation:
Section 1. DIRECTION TO LEGISLATIVE AUDITOR; REFUGEE RESETTLEMENT COSTS.
(a) The legislative auditor shall conduct or contract with vendors to conduct independent third-party financial audits of federal, state, local, and nonprofit spending related to refugee resettlement costs and other services provided to refugees in Minnesota.
What’s controversial about knowing how much taxpayer funding is being spent on resettlement programs? I haven’t heard anyone complain about the legislative auditor auditing a government agency or NPO. Why is #UniteCloud complaining?
Jeff Johnson, a St. Cloud City Council member, said he’s been concerned about the lack of transparency with the refugee resettlement program. “The taxpayers have a right to have a good and fair audit,” Johnson said.
#UniteCloud has the right to complain because the First Amendment protects that right. Similarly, I have the right to ignore #UniteCloud’s fanciful accusations.
The purpose of this op-ed, written by MnDOT Commissioner Charles Zelle and Met Council Chairman Adam Duininck, is to criticize Jim Knoblach. In the interest of full disclosure, Jim represents me in the legislature. He’s also one of the smartest policy makers in Minnesota. But I digress.
While attacking Chairman Knoblach, Commissioner Zelle and Chairman Duininck made a major mistake by essentially admitting that extending Northstar will be expensive, not just in terms of building it, but also in operating it. Commissioner Zelle and Chairman Duininck admitted it when they wrote “Building out the line involves some up-front costs, including upgrading the St. Cloud Amtrak station to make it ADA compliant; upgrading railroad crossings in St. Cloud; and adding a third track at the Big Lake station to allow trains to stop there. These capital costs along are estimated at up to $43 million, and this doesn’t include the additional funding to operate the line day-in and day-out.”
Why should we extend Northstar at such an expensive price when there’s already shuttle service from St. Cloud to Big Lake? I suspect that the operating costs of the shuttle are less than the operating costs for Northstar. I’m certain, however, that maintaining the shuttle service won’t require $43,000,000 in “capital costs.”
Question for Commissioner Zelle and Chairman Duininck: how many years could the shuttle be operated with those $43,000,000 in capital costs?
Stop that train. Stop that train. It isn’t that the $43,000,000 is the only major financial outlay:
Our $43 million cost estimate also does not include the cost of acquiring right-of-way from BNSF Railway.
Here’s another question for Commissioner Zelle and Chairman Duininck: How much will acquiring that right-of-way from BNSF cost?
Here’s a question for citizens: shouldn’t Commissioner Zelle and Chairman Duininck lay out those costs in an op-ed in a major newspaper?
We want to work with area legislators to find a way to bring Northstar to St. Cloud residents. But that work has to first start by acknowledging the realities and the costs. Minnesotans deserve a real proposal.
The question residents should ask Knoblach is: Does he still support the extension when faced with the reality of the cost?
Actually, the question citizens should ask is whether extending Northstar is worth it at that price. As a lifelong resident of St. Cloud, there isn’t a great uprising of support for extending Northstar. It’s true that a handful of public officials are pushing it but that’s pretty much it.
We don’t need to spend $50,000,000 or more just to give Gov. Dayton another ribbon-cutting ceremony to attend. I don’t speak for Chairman Knoblach but I’ll speak for myself. Spending 10s of millions of dollars on this project is a waste of money.
Eric Williams’ LTE advocating for passage of the school board bonding referendum isn’t worth the paper it’s printed on. For instance, Williams’ first argument to vote for the referendum is “A robust school system adds value our community. Young entrepreneurs who want to start innovative businesses need quality workers. What attracts these entrepreneurs and quality workers is a quality school system.”
I won’t dispute that a well-trained work force is an economic benefit to any community. I have multiple dispute. with the referendum. First, the school board is trying to shove a massive property tax increase down our throats without telling us a) any details about the size of the new Tech HS or b) what enrollment model they’re using to determine the size of the building.
Without knowing that, it’s impossible to say whether a $113,800,000 project is needed. That’s before considering why the school board threw in a bonding request for improved technology. That’s been paid for with the operating levy. Taxpayers shouldn’t have to pay for that with interest tacked on. Here’s Williams’ second bullet point:
Quality schools raise the value of our homes. I would argue that it is the most important reason young families choose to live where they do. Realtors often leverage the quality of a community’s school system when they market a home to a family new to the area.
Again, it’s another generalized argument. For the sake of discussion, let’s stipulate that it’s true. Does Mr. Williams think that taxpayers want to be treated like ATMs? Wouldn’t they be more impressed with a great new facility that the district didn’t overpay for? I’m betting that taxpayers would appreciate it if the district had modern facilities and that weren’t overbuilt. Here’s Williams’ final bullet point:
I think we all agree that a quality school system is a huge attractor for young families. Selfishly, I would love to see my children and the children of my friends and neighbors who have graduated from Tech and Apollo choose to raise their families in St. Cloud. (We won’t have far to go to see our grandchildren!)
This LTE didn’t address anything of substance. It’s filled with platitudes and emotional appeals. That isn’t a justification for passing the biggest bonding referendum in St. Cloud history. It definitely isn’t a justification for passing the biggest bonding referendum in St. Cloud history without a series of townhall meetings.
Vote no on November 3.
This morning, the St. Cloud Times’ Our View editorial couldn’t get it more wrong:
Seriously, short of breaking the two-party stranglehold on state government, this session stands as Minnesota’s poster child for reforming a budget-building process that’s come to rely on procrastination as a feeble excuse for letting a handful of 202 elected officials (201 legislators and one governor) make closed-door budget deals as time expires. Or, this year, afterward.
More transparency is the best solution.
This isn’t an argument against transparency. It’s an argument that ideology, not transparency, drove the special session. Time after time, Gov. Dayton pushed items from the DFL’s special interest wish list. While neither party is immune to pushing things too far, it’s indisputable that the DFL pushed it too hard this session. In fact, I’d argue that the DFL got used to pushing things too far in 2013-14, then didn’t adjust to divided government this year.
Gov. Dayton insisted on a trifecta of bad ideas. First, Gov. Dayton insisted on a major gas tax increase that Minnesotans vehemently opposed. Next, Gov. Dayton insisted on universal pre-k. Even after experts said that wasn’t sustainable, Gov. Dayton didn’t relent until a week later. Finally, Gov. Dayton insisted that the legislature repeal the partial privatization of the Auditor’s office a week after Gov. Dayton signed the bill.
The gas tax increase was a disaster waiting to happen. Three-fourths of Minnesotans opposed the tax increase. That didn’t stop Gov. Dayton from harshly criticizing people opposed to his gas tax increase. When he dug in his heels, Gov. Dayton poisoned the well.
Later, Gov. Dayton insisted on universal pre-K. Even after Art Rolnick showed how expensive it was and how many hidden property tax increases and unfunded mandates were hidden in the bill, Gov. Dayton still pushed the bill in his attempt to pay off his allies at Education Minnesota.
Third, Gov. Dayton pushed that the legislature repeal the statute that gave counties the option of hiring a private CPA to audit their county. That was an especially tricky position to defend since 28 counties already have that option.
Ideology, not a lack of transparency, pushed events in the Legislature.
I’ve written two posts on Brian McDaniel’s statements on the transportation bill. (This is the link to my post about McDaniel’s appearance on Almanac. This is the link for my post about McDaniel’s appearance on At Issue.) In those posts, I expressed my bewilderment with McDaniel’s statements pushing for a compromise on the DFL’s gas tax proposal.
This information from Minnesota’s Campaign Finance Disclosure Board dropped the pieces of this transportation puzzle into place:
McDaniel didn’t state that he’s a paid lobbyist for the organization pushing the DFL’s gas tax. He didn’t disclose this conflict of interest when he appeared on Almanac. McDaniel didn’t disclose this important information when he appeared on At Issue.
It’s disgusting that McDaniel didn’t disclose this information. It’s one thing to speak in favor of legislation as a private citizen. It’s another to speak in favor of legislation like you’re a private citizen when you’re actually a paid lobbyist.
It’s standard procedure to disclose that you’re a paid lobbyist for an organization that’s pushing a policy that you’re discussing. To do otherwise is dishonest and corrupt. When others have been caught in that situation before, they’ve started their first sentence by saying “In the interest of full disclosure.” Then the viewers understand that the lobbyist has a dog in that particular hunt.
At this point, Republicans should tell Mr. McDaniel that they won’t listen to his pitch anymore because he isn’t transparent in his dealings with legislators. More importantly, Republicans should reject all calls for a gas tax increase because it’s a failed policy. The DFL tried that approach in 2008. It failed miserably. Because it failed miserably in 2008, the DFL is back asking for a bigger gas tax increase this year.
Move MN, the Minnesota Transportation Alliance, the DFL and Gov. Dayton must be desperate if they’re pushing the gas tax without telling us that they’re sending out paid lobbyists to act like regular citizens speaking out on this issue.
Finally, Republicans should stand firmly against the gas tax increase. They’re on the winning side of this issue.
Slick, Slick, Slick!
by Silence Dogood
The SCSU PR machine is good! SCSU got a very favorable article announcing a land swap between the City of St. Cloud and SCSU into the SCTimes on April 17, 2015. Fridays are always slow news days. In the news media, Fridays are often referred to as “take out the trash day.” On Monday, April 20, 2015, the St. Cloud City Council met and unanimously approved the swap. Based on my own review of the two properties, it is easy to see why the vote by the city council was quick and unanimous. On Tuesday, the MnSCU board of Trustees voted to approve the swap. Getting something approved in such short order without discussion or objection is about as rare as an appearance of Hailey’s Comet! It also doesn’t pass the “Smell Test.”
Someone has stated that the land swap was initially instigated by President Roy Saigo, who left SCSU in the summer of 2007. As a result, it has been argued that the land swap can hardly be described as something that was ‘rushed.’ I beg to differ. Since you can’t prove a negative, simply provide documentation showing that it was discussed publically any time within the last five years. Personally, I don’t believe such documentation exists but I am willing to be convinced. However, I’m going to adopt the Missouri model—”Show Me.”
In my opinion, this land swap continues the administration’s practice of what can only be charitably called ‘back room’ dealing. The contract between SCSU and the City of St. Cloud for the hiring of three City of St. Cloud police officers back in July 2013 comes to mind. Essentially, SCSU is paying the City of St. Cloud $240,000 per year for the City of St. Cloud to assign three police officers to patrol the vicinity of the SCSU campus. In many ways it almost seems as if SCSU is paying for protection. Unfortunately, the worst part is that the deal was announced AFTER the contract had already been signed. Once again, if it was such an important and worthwhile endeavor, why was it done in secret? Again, if someone can provide documentation where the police officer contract was discussed in a public forum or at Meet and Confer, it would help dispel the transparency question. Private conversations between President Earl Potter and Mayor Dave Kleis don’t really count as public discussion—despite the fact that they may have taken place in public!
Another example of decisions being made behind the scenes and then an announcement informing people of an accomplishment happened during the summer of 2013. The administration signed a contract with the Great Place to Work Institute (GPTWI) to perform a “Trust Survey” of the faculty and staff at SCSU and never consulted outside of the inner circle of Potter confidants. Whether or not the GPTWI was the best choice to perform the survey or whether or not the survey should be conducted at all was never presented to the faculty for consideration. The administration simply announced that a contract had been signed.
The GPTWI Survey questions were to be answered in terms of both the employee’s “Workgroup” and “Organization.”
Workgroup: “refers to all people in your immediate unit or department. Management of your work group refers to your immediate supervisor. (Note: if you are the supervisor of your workgroup, then Management refers to yourself.)”
Organization: “refers to the University as a whole. Management of the organization refers to the senior level members of the administration, including the President, Provost, and vice presidents.”
The results of the survey listed below refer to the management of the organization, which means the President, Provost, and vice presidents. The results are grouped into several areas with SCSU results in blue and bench marks in red.
Communication shows up as an issue for SCSU. A score of 31 compares to a GPTW value of 83 for “Management keeps me informed.” What’s even more telling is the question about management shares information openly and transparently because this is one of the key phrases from President Potter’s administration that they are “open and transparent.” A score of 20 indicates that there is a big difference between saying that you are open and transparent and actually being open and transparent.
Scoring just better than one-third of the GPTW value of 90, with a 32 on “Management is competent” is not a ringing endorsement of the current leadership. Less than one-third believe the “Management has a clear view (a value of 25 compared to the GPTW value of 85).
Even the consultant from the GPTWI in their report highlighted: “The absence of a strong relationship with leadership, limited communication and challenging financial times all contribute to employees questioning leadership’s effectiveness.”
The consultant from the GPTWI in their report highlighted: “Employees request even greater opportunity to be heard, with specific mentions around Participatory Decision Making.” The average scores under 30 in this category clearly indicate that people feel unable to influence the course of the university.
The last category on listening shows that there is a significant disconnect between the people rowing the boat and the captain of the ship. Clearly, President Potter, despite his efforts, since the release of the results of the survey, to attend “listening sessions” apparently still believes that it is not important to actually listen and in the case of the land swap not to even consider asking for input from the campus community.
In the fourteen months since the release of the results from the GPTWI survey, has anything changed regarding the campus culture to encourage people at all levels to give input into decisions? Apparently not! It simply seems as if the input from faculty and staff remains a very low priority and this is directly evident when decisions are made and the results announced. Given the current climate at SCSU, does anyone really think President Potter’s administration is going to get it right when in comes to slashing over $12,000,000 from the budget for FY16? Stop laughing—the administration did get a score of 32 on the question of being competent, one of SCSU administration’s highest scores, but that did not compare favorably to the average score employees working at the actual great places to work (GPTW value of 90) gave their bosses. Come to think of it, it is better to laugh than to cry.
This article isn’t the type of thing Hillary wanted to read a day after she tried putting her email controversy behind her:
WASHINGTON (AP) — The Associated Press filed a lawsuit Wednesday against the State Department to force the release of email correspondence and government documents from Hillary Rodham Clinton’s tenure as secretary of state.
The legal action comes after repeated requests filed under the U.S. Freedom of Information Act have gone unfulfilled. They include one request AP made five years ago and others pending since the summer of 2013.
The lawsuit, filed in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia, comes a day after Clinton broke her silence about her use of a private email account while secretary of state. The FOIA requests and lawsuit seek materials related to her public and private calendars, correspondence involving longtime aides likely to play key roles in her expected campaign for president, and Clinton-related emails about the Osama bin Laden raid and National Security Agency surveillance practices.
First, the AP’s lawsuit is substantive. They first filed a FOIA request 5 years ago to find out about the Osama bin Laden raid and the NSA surveillance program. Next, it’s impossible for the Clintons to convince serious people that the AP is a card-carrying member of the Vast Right Wing Conspiracy.
The worst part about this for the Clintons is that a judge might demand to view her server. At that point, Hillary’s options are to surrender the server or to file an appeal. Anyone familiar with the Clintons knows that surrendering isn’t part of their DNA. Filing an appeal, though, is fraught with negatives. One definite downside filing an appeal is that it re-opens the wound. That automatically means more TV time for James Carville and Lanny Davis saying that this is old news and that Hillary followed the rules.
A court ruling that Hillary needs to turn over her server, though, isn’t the same as accusing a political enemy of waging political war against the Clintons. People don’t think that courts are partisan. They think of them as essentially being impartial.
The AP had sought Clinton-related correspondence before her use of a personal email account was publicly known, although Wednesday’s court filing alleges that the State Department is responsible for including emails from that account in any public records request.
“State’s failure to ensure that Secretary Clinton’s governmental emails were retained and preserved by the agency, and its failure timely to seek out and search those emails in response to AP’s requests, indicate at the very least that State has not engaged in the diligent, good-faith search that FOIA requires,” says AP’s legal filing.
Hillary’s unspoken response essentially was “Trust me. There’s nothing there.” Though younger voters aren’t familiar with an old Reaganism from the Soviet era, it’s still applicable:
“Trust but verify” seems like the perfect axiom for Hillary’s plea for us to trust her.
Thomas Blanton, director of the National Security Archive, predicted the State Department would speed up its review facing legal action, particularly given that Clinton has said that her email correspondence doesn’t include classified material. “When the government is under a court deadline, or really wants to review, they can whip through thousands of pages in a matter of weeks, which they should do here,” Blanton said.
The State Department will soon be motivated, thanks in large part to the AP’s lawsuit.
George Will’s commentary sliced through Lanny Davis’s Orwellian spin:
Here’s part of Will’s exchange with Chris Wallace:
CHRIS WALLACE: How big a deal is this? And given the fact that we’re in March of 2015, how big a deal is this when we’re talking about an election that isn’t until November of 2016?
GEORGE WILL: It’s big because it is axiomatic that the worst political scandals are those that reinforce a pre-existing negative perception, which Kim [Strassel] has documented at length. The Clintons come trailing clouds of entitlement and concealment and legalistic, jesuitical reasonings, the kind of people who could find a loophole in a stop sign. Her obvious motive was to conceal. You conceal in order to control, and that’s what makes this literally, strictly speaking, Orwellian. In George Orwell’s novel “1984,” Oceania’s regime, the totalitarian regime, had an axiom: ‘He who controls the past controls the future, and he who controls the present controls the past.’ This is a way of controlling what we will know about the history of our country, and it is deeply sinister.
How much am I bid for another “It all depends on what the meaning of is is“?
Seriously, this begs the question of whether we’d like another 8 years of the Clintons and their endless supply of defenders, aka Clintonistas, appearing nightly on our news programs. Do we want another 8 years of a president who thinks that this nation’s laws don’t apply to her?
There’s no questioning the fact that Hillary doesn’t think the rules apply to her. Defenders like Lanny Davis will insist that the Clintons haven’t broken any laws. That’s probably true. It’s also irrelevant. The reason why people hate Washington, DC is because Washington writes the rules that we have to live by. Then it carves out the exceptions that exempt themselves from the laws they’ve forced us into obeying.
It shouldn’t be up to Hillary Clinton to determine which emails she turns over. It should be required that all communications, both hardcopy and electronic, be kept by the national archivist. Using a private email account should be dramatically restricted and frequently monitored. Further, there should be monthly audits of all political appointees’ email accounts. Finally, there should be stiff fines and/or jail times for political appointees who don’t comply with the new law.
Finally, it’s time for the American people to reject Hillary Clinton as the next president. She’s disgustingly dishonest, opposed to transparency and utterly lacking in accomplishments while in office. To paraphrase Carly Fiorina, flying is an activity, not an accomplishment.
Ron Fournier’s article on Hillary’s email scandal is titled Hillary Clinton still doesn’t get it. Stealing a line that Charles Krauthammer might say, Mr. Fournier isn’t cynical enough.
A cornered Clinton is a craven Clinton, which is why we should view Hillary Rodham Clinton’s latest public relations trick with practiced skepticism. “I want the public to see my email,” she tweeted Wednesday night. “I asked State to release them. They said they will review them for release as soon as possible.”
I want the public to see my email. I asked State to release them. They said they will review them for release as soon as possible.
— Hillary Clinton (@HillaryClinton) March 5, 2015
If she wants us to see her email, why did she create a secret account stored on a dark server registered at her home?
Hillary doesn’t want the public to know what’s in her emails. What’s happening is that Hillary is doing as little as possible. She’s doing that to make it look like she’s being transparent without actually being transparent.
If she wants us to see her email, Clinton should turn over every word written on her dark account(s) for independent vetting. Let somebody the public trusts decide which emails are truly private and which ones belong to the public.
Like everything else about the response to this controversy, Clinton’s tweet is reminiscent of the 1990s, when her husband’s White House overcame its wrongdoing by denying the truth, blaming Republicans, and demonizing and bullying the media. It’s a shameless script, unbecoming of a historic figure who could be our next president, and jarringly inappropriate for these times.
It’s a shameless script that’s being deployed by a shameless person. It’s impossible to shame a Clinton. It’s as possible to shame a Clinton as it is to get a pig to feel guilty for rolling around in mud.
My former employer, The Associated Press said Wednesday that it was considering legal action over years of stonewalling its requests for government documents covering Clinton’s tenure as secretary of state. The AP has sought her full schedules and calendars and for details on the State Department’s decision to grant a special position to a longtime Clinton aide, Huma Abedin, among other documents, the New York Times, reported. The oldest AP request was made in March 2010.
“We believe it’s critically important that government officials and agencies be held accountable to the voters,” said AP’s general counsel, Karen Kaiser. “In this instance, we’ve exhausted our administrative remedies in pursuit of important documents and are considering legal action.”
I can recite the Clinton script in my sleep. First, they’ll insist that they’re “cooperating fully” with the investigation. Later, they’ll insist that they’ve turned over tens of thousands of documents while essentially arguing that that should be good enough for the investigators. Mixed in along the way will be attempts to intimidate the investigators with smears.
Where’s Earl? Part 2
by Silence Dogood
Last October, I was looking up someone on campus. After I found what I was looking for, I did a search for Potter just to see what would come up. I was surprised to see the response that came back:
Just for fun I recently went to the other six MnSCU universities to see what would come up if I put the name of their university President into their directory search engine. The results are shown below.
As you can see, all of the websites look very different. However, each one of them found the university’s president. A phone number was listed for each of the presidents. For five there was an office address and for five there was an email address.
It is surprising that the president at SCSU, a person who has been president for more than seven years, couldn’t be found then and still can’t be found now by the university’s search engine. Based on the results from the other six MnSCU universities, this makes Earl H. Potter something of an outlier. Clearly, he doesn’t want to be found.