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:
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.
Blunt gets it all for free. Sound fair to you?
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.
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.
"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?!?
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.
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.