MINOT, N.D. — North Dakota's legislative session may be over, but the work of the Legislature goes on.
Last week members of Legislative Management, a powerful committee that guides much of the business of the Legislature during the interim, went about selecting policy topics to study before the next session. Many bills are passed to study issues during any given session, but not all of them actually get studied.
This time around they chose 50 studies and rejected about 20.
Perhaps the most interesting? "Among the studies will be an examination of the amount, cost and occupancy of office space leased by the state since the beginning of 2018," Jeremy Turley reports.
This is a timely study. An 85,000 square foot office building, which North Dakota's taxpayers leased for about $3 million, is sitting largely empty because most of the people in the state's Information Technology Department have been working from home.
It's a situation we can mostly blame on the COVID-19 pandemic. Across our society, from the private sector to the government, we're discovering that a lot of people can work just fine from home. This study from the Legislature will likely find that we can save the taxpayers a lot of money by downsizing office space and leaning into this new work-from-home phenomenon.
Though the study will also further disclose just how much money some of our state's politicians make from leasing property to the state.
A 2019 report from the Bismarck Tribune revealed that many who hold elected office in our state are also the state's landlords. They own property leased by the state for offices even as they simultaneously make policy for the state.
The Tribune report didn't find any egregious deals — there's no evidence of the state lining some politician's pockets by overpaying — but there also isn't a lot of transparency on the arrangements. There is no competitive bidding process for leasing office space, which puts state workers in the uncomfortable position of negotiating leases directly with some of the same people who write their budgets.
Back to the interim study, House Minority Leader Josh Boschee, D-Fargo, requested that the study look specifically at leasing arrangements with public officeholders.
You can't get got if you're transparent about your business arrangements with the state.
There's nothing inherently wrong with an officeholder also leasing property to the state as long as it's a fair deal. Still, the potential for shenanigans is real, which is why it should be transparent.
Those involved should voluntarily disclose their arrangements, right now, and then support a reporting requirement for those who work in state government while simultaneously profiting from it.
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Rob Port, founder of SayAnythingBlog.com, is a Forum Communications commentator. Reach him on Twitter at @robport or via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.