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Frustrated
Written by Chet   
Wednesday, 15 August 2007 19:00
hemorrhoids treatment
WSI

I'm a little frustrated right now.  I have reason to believe that over the past 4 or 5 months, Sandy Blunt -- the suspended but with-$14,000(plus)-per-month pay while felony charges are pending against him director of North Dakota's Workforce Safety & Insurance (WSI) -- has made a busload of open records requests to WSI.  Management is making staff at WSI bend over backwards to give Blunt everything he asks for, promptly, like obedient little trolls, at no charge to Blunt.

Why would that frustrate me?  A number of reasons.  I'll try to rattle off a few (but not all) of them: 

  1. A couple days ago I sent an open records request to WSI.  I've gotten a preliminary response from whats-his-name, the emperor of and gatekeeper for all WSI records.  Using the word "voluminous," he alludes to the fact he's going to charge me per hour (likely $25 per hour) to (a) retrieve, (b) review, (c) redact and (d) photocopy the things I've asked for.  He's almost certainly talking about hundreds of dollars worth of time costs, on the conservative side.  In addition, I'm sure he's going to say WSI will charge me something per page for the copies; probably $.25 per page. 

  1. Blunt gets it all for free.  Sound fair to you?

  1. I happen to have a copy of the WSI employee manual.  WSI employees are supposed to pay for copies, faxes, long distance phone calls and any other state/WSI asset they wish to take from WSI for their own personal use.  (Makes sense, doesn't it?)  The expense policy, on page 46 of WSI's Policy Handbook, even says this:  "Excessive personal use of the business office automation equipment may lead to disciplinary action up to and including termination."  Now... the folks at WSI are bending over to give Blunt whatever he asks for, for free, so he can use it for personal use.   They are using state employee time, copying machines and computers and paper and toner and blank computer disks and postage.  They've made countless copies of audio and video recordings for him.  They've burned full copies of computer hard drives.  They've printed/copied hundreds of pages of paper for him.  All of it... free.  And, of course, Blunt is obviously asking for all this stuff so he can use it for personal use, right?  I mean, he's still suspended (with pay), right?  That means he's not doing any work for WSI, right?  I don't know how many hours WSI management and staff have spent scurrying about getting Blunt every little thing he asks for, but, based upon the nature of his extensive open records requests, I'll bet they've got dozens of hours into it.  (Maybe hundreds.)  That includes professional staff time for IT people and lawyers to review the materials he's asked for.  Gee... dozens of hours times $25 per hour...  that equals.... carry the 4...  I don't know.  A lot.  And they'll bill me for every microsecond and every scrap of paper.  And I don't have any felony charges pending against me.  Seems fair.

  1. It's my understanding Blunt -- in one of his open records requests -- asked for a complete copy of everything on the hard-drive in the computer in his office and on his WSI network hard drives.  WSI decided that some of the information on the hard drives "may be" subject to an open records request but that they weren't going to review it but, instead, would just give ALL of it to him -- for free, of course -- because of Blunt's "status."  They told him they'd give it ALL to him because he is "still an employee." 

"Still an employee?!?"  "Still a" frickin' "employee?"  You're damn right; a suspended employee with none of the rights or privileges of employment (except the paycheck, of course); an employee who's "still" facing felony charges relating to publicly disclosing confidential information, mind you.  That's "confidential" as in "confidential, like the stuff on his hard-drives" confidential.  

  1. "What do you mean, Chet, 'confidential like the stuff on the hard drives"?  Good question.  There's a special statute in North Dakota -- NDCC Sec. 65-05-32 [oops, had a typo there] -- that makes it a felony to disclose certain confidential WSI information.  "So what?!? you ask?   Well, I'm going to go out on a limb here and say that the Executive Director's computer hard drives at WSI are filled with confidential WSI information.  No?!?  And -- not to kick a dead horse here, but -- here's a guy who -- if you believe a commenter here -- might not even be trusted to enter the building without an escort.  And his rights and privileges as a WSI employee are... suspended.  Right?  "Suspended, with pay" has to mean something, doesn't it?  "Suspended" from what?  "Suspended" in mid-air?  I think not.  "Suspended" from his rights and responsibilities as a WSI employee?  Sounds about right.  Shouldn't that mean he can't be given confidential WSI information?  But, more importantly, here's a guy who's facing felony charges relating to... wait for it... public disclosure of confidential information.  And some rocket scientist up at WSI thinks it's a good idea to give a hard drive full of confidential information to a guy who's suspended from working at WSI because he (allegedly) conspired to disclose strictly confidential information?

    What could possibly go wrong?!?

  1. What really bothers me, though, is that Blunt gets all this stuff -- some of it possibly illegally -- and he gets it for free while a working stiff like me is probably going to be charged 25 frickin' dollars per hour for them to search for, review, redact and duplicate the stuff I've asked for.  Plus, they're going to charge me $$$ for the paper and copier toner.   The guy facing felony charges gets it free.  The little guy out in the trenches trying to shine a little sunlight on the troublesome antics of the folks at WSI?  I have to take out a second mortgage.  Seems fair.

  1. But what this is really all about is this:  Sandy Blunt has felony criminal charges pending against him.  WSI is funded entirely by public money.  Every minute WSI's management and staff spends being at Blunt's beck and call -- doing these huge tasks for free for him that all the rest of us have to pay for -- is public money taken out of the public coffers and used for the personal benefit of one of its criminally-charged employees.  Every page of paper that's given to Blunt for free is money out of the pockets of the citizens of North Dakota.  Every WSI IT person who spends hours burning copies of hard drives, audio clips and video clips is taking -- or being forced to take -- the money we pay for government services and handing those dollars over to Sandy Blunt.  And Blunt is accused of giving illegal bonuses to the people deciding whether to charge Sandy for his copies and me for mine.  Seems fair.

So I'm a little frustrated.  I'm a little frustrated, and I'm waiting for WSI to send me an estimate so I know how much they would bill me to give me the things I've asked for if I decide I still want them after seeing all the dollar signs.  (The gatekeeper did offer to save me some money by letting me come up to WSI to spend a full day listening to the recordings I've asked for rather than charging me to make the copies so I can listen to them in my free time, and I'm struggling with that.  But I've never been in the WSI building.  Maybe I can get a full tour.  Make a mini-vacation out of it.)  Then I'll have to decide if I want to pay that cash out of my own pocket, or come grovelling to you folks again for donations to help cover the costs.  Or abandon the whole project.  (Don't fear... that doesn't mean I won't write about the thing I mentioned in yesterday's post; cuz that's still in my back pocket.)  But I hate this.

And, meanwhile... Where's the mainstream media?  Incompetent, lazy, ineffective tools.  Too busy writing about another dog-at-large or biker rally.  The top story at the Fargo Forum's website as I started writing this post was a nice little story about speed traps.  Geez.  Where can I find ONE investigative journalist in North Dakota?  One.

This is exactly what's wrong with North Dakota's Workforce Safety & Insurance.  It's what's wrong with our state legislature.  It's what's wrong with putting people who hate all government in charge of any government.  And it's what's wrong with North Dakota's media.


Comments (20)add comment

FreeRepublicans.com said:

Sunshine on WSI (and government in general)
It it time for the light generated by the tubes of the inter-web to shine on government!

 
August 16, 2007
Votes: +0

Deb said:

FYI
You misspelled "safety" in your graphic above smilies/wink.gif

(p.s. JUUUUIIIICCCCYYYYY!!! LOVES IT!)
 
August 16, 2007
Votes: +0

Chet said:

Aaaaaaaaaah
Sometimes it just feels good to vent.

I'm much better now.
 
August 16, 2007
Votes: +0

Limbo said:

Double standard on open records
Why don't you just ask for all records previously requested by and provided to Blunt? They have already spent all the time assemblying those documents, tapes, computer stuff, or whatever for him and have a copy for their records so they know exactly what they gave him. They wouldn't have to assemble anything - just copy. So their hourly charge would go out the window and they could only charge you per page copying fees. Anything else would probably be in violation of the law that governs how they can determine reasonable charges for open records requests.
 
August 16, 2007
Votes: +0

bedazzled said:

Brothah
If I were in charge of WSI, I'd give you the keys to the building. I'd do it to prove to you how wrong you are about all this stuff. That'd shut you up.
 
August 17, 2007
Votes: +0

Just in said:

You are bedazzled alright
You should talk to the gatekeeper. He's doing his damnedest to keep open records our of the hands of the peasants at the door. I can picture him in a nice Giuliani dress and wig exclaiming "let them eat cake".

Give Stenehjem a chance Chet. As you know unlike most opinions, any citizen can request an open records opinion. He might surprise you.
 
August 17, 2007
Votes: +0

GraemeA said:

...
Your the investigative reporter in ND! Keep up the great work!
 
August 17, 2007 | url
Votes: +0

GraemeA said:

...
umm, I mean you're
 
August 17, 2007 | url
Votes: +0

Chet said:

Response to "Limbo"
My request includes what you're suggesting. Here's one piece of my open records request:

Copies of all open records requests received by WSI from any person since the date on which Sandy Blunt was put on paid leave, along with all of WSI?s written or e-mailed responses to such requests (without the records provided to the requesters, unless such records can be provided to me at no charge; if they were provided to the requester at no charge, I?d like them at no charge, if possible, too).


I figure that oughta cover it.
 
August 17, 2007
Votes: +0

Chet said:

To "Just in" -- Let's talk about this
(1) What do you mean I "should talk to the gatekeeper"? I'm e-mailing with him. Why would I want to talk to him? I like having an electronic "paper" trail; and

(2) Why would I count on Stenehjem to do the right thing on this? He's disappointed on several other things in the past. Stenehjem has to know this is going on. I have a stack of documents on my desk that I can only guess Wayne has on his desk too. If he's got what I've got, if I'm reading it right, and if it matters, he'd have 5 BCI agents scouring WSI right now and he'd be locking down the WSI e-mail exchange server at ITD to make sure nobody's destroying "evidence."

This could come off sounding like a rhetorical, condescending question, but I don't mean for it to be read that way... I'm really wondering: What question do you think I/we could/should ask Stenehjem that might have some meaningful impact on the situation? I'm serious, too. I'm looking for your idea (or the ideas of others) on what an appropriate "open records"-related question (or questions) could be. I have some thoughts on this, but I'm sincerely interested in getting input from you (all) too. Let's do this right here in front of God and everybody.

Keep in mind, too, that I still haven't heard back from the Records Ayatollah at WSI. It's entirely possible he could send me a note telling me they'll give me the same courtesy they've given Sandy Blunt. They could tell me they're giving me all the stuff I asked for for free. I've asked for a fee waiver. If they have any interest in doing the honorable thing, they can honor my fee waiver request. If they have anything resembling dignity, parts of this discussion could potentially be moot.

But -- for obvious reasons -- let's assume they won't waive the fee. Let's talk about what questions I might ask of Wayne.

It's raining in Bismarck. Let's make it a brainstorm.
 
August 17, 2007
Votes: +0

Just in said:

I meant that for bedazzled
Brothah bedazzled figured they should give you the keys to the building so you could see for yourself there is nothing wrong in River City. So I figured Bedazzled should talk to the weak minded Armstrong, and tell him to follow the open records law (if not give you the keys). Mark's been doing everything he can to intimidate those asking of open records and scaring them off with inflated cost estimates.

If you have made a reasonable request (which I believe you have) and Markass plays the jerk, I'd like you to give the AG a chance to do what's right, or (worst case) compromise his oath of office. It won't cost you anything more than the time it takes to shoot him an e-mail.

Great work Chet.
 
August 17, 2007
Votes: +0

Chet said:

Instructions
You people don't follow instructions well. I thought I said we should brainstorm this out in public. Quite sending me private e-mails on this!!!

If you're not careful, I'll just cut and paste your e-mails and put them into comments for you.

smilies/wink.gif
 
August 17, 2007
Votes: +0

I have issues said:

It might be risky....
to ask for an AG opinion on this. But, keeping that in mind, it is just that. An opinion.
 
August 17, 2007
Votes: +0

Deb said:

RU talking about me?
if so, my idea was to write a tell all woodward & bernstein type book. It'd be funny if you got it printed in somewhat of the same format as the Beacon - 8 1/2 x 11 with orange outline.

Make up an inside source called Blunt Smoker (in keeping with the Deep Throat template) who spills all the beans and then walks away never to be heard from again until his or her death bed.

Just an idea to try to defray some of the costs of your investigation.

And you can copy and paste all my emails here. I gots nuthin to hide. smilies/cool.gif
 
August 17, 2007
Votes: +0

FreeRepublicans.com said:

Booklets
I like Deb's idea. Print a couple hundred for all incumbants and all candidates.

Here's a website in Minnesota that does it so you can price it out.

http://on-demandgraphics.com/BookletsCatalogs.aspx
 
August 18, 2007
Votes: +0

Deb said:

Ya know....
what with past suitors, my recent run ins with the commerce dept and now that freep is agreeing with me -- I'm beginning to think that I'm a closeted republican

*shudders*
 
August 18, 2007
Votes: +0

Limbo said:

Preferential treatment
For your question to Wayne, I would include something about whether an agency can create and follow different rules for different requesters of open records. WSI has such a well documented record of treating its employees with great disparity, it is no surprise that they are doing the same thing with open records requests. Also, can they charge for assembling records that they have already assembled, for example the Blunt open records requests which you are now requesting copies of as well. If so, can they charge more for the re-assembly than they did for the initial gathering and copying? It seems pretty apparent what the answer will be, but obviously WSI is not going to be fair with you and anyone else (other than Blunt and his gang) that are requesting records unless they are forced into doing so. Giving you and others the run around should be made public.
 
August 18, 2007
Votes: +0

Truth said:

...
Ask WSI gatekeepers if they allowed other employees who were on administrative leave to get information from WSI or if there were even allowd to come to the building? The answer would be interesting. I know of one instance where someone was on leave and was told to stay away until they were called back. So I guess they make up rules as they go along for whomever you are.
 
August 22, 2007
Votes: +0

Truth said:

...
I think its time for people to go go the AG and Governors office and request that something be done. I agree Blunt is custodian of "Public funds" and therefore the Governor can remove him. REMOVE HIM AND GET THIS OVER WITH.
 
August 22, 2007
Votes: +0

Big Jake said:

...
They really got under your skin, didn't they, Chet? Nothing new here---the same pattern over and over. If Blunt has access, then we all have access on the exact same basis. Get them to deny you in print. Should be grounds for some legal action. Ask for help on that on rather then cave in to paying for public information.

A while ago, a Federal lawsuit against an agency got to the discovery stage---the justice dept claimed that the request was burdensome and then went on to decribe the volume that those documents would create.---tons and then went on to describe how much space in a truck it would take up. The plaintiffs just ran out of money and they lost on procedural grounds----the documents would have proven a pattern of behavior on a national scale and the corruption that was contained in what had become "policy". Sound Familiar????? That case involved $billions and the bad guys got away with it. The consequences went way beyond a few crooks and it both then and now have effects on the financial picture. In fact some of the same patterns existed in the S & L crisis as they do now in this gigantic financial crisis. We are being mislead as we speak. Our failure to demand justice can have a long tail. We can't expect Chet to carry this ball himself. While I don't have an immediate solution, we should all think about what needs to happen. Maybe with enough ideas, something will emerge that could get traction. If this were democrats, I would feel exactly the same way. But it isn't. It is almost exclusively Repulicans.

The public is quiet because the press has not pursued the matter. The press has not pursued it because, they claim, that the public is not interested. The Tribune claims that they don't have an investigative reporter and the Corp won't budget for one. Stop!!! I'm getting dizzy.

How far WSI, Stenehjem, Hoeven will go and have gone is the real indicator of just how much they need to cover this up. Surely heads would roll and it could create a political stink and the potential fallout the likes of such that has not been seen here in ND. Gov. Langer fought this type of thing and eventually prevailed. We now have the Gov. and the AG leading the coverup. That makes it more difficult but not impossible.

Perhaps one of the lawsuits will crack this open or perhaps Blunt will roll over to save his own skin---looks like they are treating him with kid gloves----Blunt must be confident in what he knows and that is hip escape hatch. The least responsible in this is the press. They are just not doing their job. Apparently. the free press is not as free as it would seem.
 
September 23, 2008 | url
Votes: +1

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