The Face of Opacity

State agencies detest Open Records requests, perhaps in large part due to the simple fact that they generally require a staff member to pour through the raw data that a reporter, lawyer, or statistician really, really wants to see, whilst the staff member mainly cares about all the other work they would rather be doing, and there’s a lot of things to copy, sharpie out, and send out to lawyers for final review.

The whole matter could be settled by, for example, a policy where information is born free – where the use of sensitive information like payment or identity numbers are easily severable where used in forms, and a general notion that wherever a private version of a document is sitting, there is already a public version of it sitting next to it in the folder or on the server, and an irreproachable reason why that secret is being kept.

But that would make too much sense or take too much time for everything in the face of the low odds that anyone will ever inquire about any particular thing the state is doing. So to threaten the continued health of what’s left of Open Records, all it really takes is a bad moment, say a ballot measure’s advertising agency picking up B-roll that just happens to include the former manager of the Devils Lake Chamber of Commerce, and next thing you know, transparency is off the rails.

Despite the red herring about faces and waivers, what’s ultimately happening here is the state bureaucracy is proposing changes to laws that will limit public discourse and hoard state-funded and state-collected data and media for internal use only. And it has featured state employees making statements that sound like a political attack run during the middle of an election.

Now, this completely sets aside the fact that you can’t claim copyright against a public policy advertisement. Which could really be a whole post in itself.

Maybe the expectation is that with no Michael Geist or Lawrence Lessig to say a second word, the state government will write a Christmas card to itself that neuters what’s left of Open Records.  Well, if any such bill appears in the North Dakota Legislature, I will physically be there to harp upon its folly.

Voting starts in Grand Forks

I voted, 2014The ads may still be airing nonstop, but for voters like me, the results are already in; early voting at the Alerus Centre began today. 

I’m fairly happy to have made up my mind on the state races and measures. I can only hope that I have more to be happy about next week. A couple wins on the offices side would be huge for the League.

New dining hall opens at State Capitol

Remodel complete

Remodel complete

The North Dakota State Capitol dining centre recently completed its million-dollar remodel, opening to state employees and the general public today. Reporters were on hand for this historic event, but j5mc is saddened to be first to inform you that Pepsi has been removed from the pop selection.

As all proud North Dakotans should be aware, our state is the only region in the United States that prefers Pepsi to Coke in overall sales. The new Capitol Cafe’s choice of beverage providers can only be an inside deal struck against the sensibilities of the average Ole.

AARP director resigns in disgrace

Rodger Wetzel is no longer the director of AARP North Dakota. I don’t much care for the idea of being fired for one’s opinions, but lying to the public while appearing in a campaign for a controversial constitutional amendment probably justifies dismissal from a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization, whose tax status, let alone the public trust, depends on impartiality.

I have a problem with the Measure 1 committee painting the picture using Wetzel’s office and associating an impartial group with their views. The AARP is, among other things, the primary sponsor of the election debates on Prairie Public, not exactly a role that ought to be played by an organization that plays favourites.

Wetzel is lying to the elderly about what Measure 1 takes off the table, when he says Measure 1 will have no impact on end-of-life issues.  For one thing, Measure 1 would make do-not-resuscitate (DNR) orders illegal.  Under Measure 1, hospitals would be unable to “pull the plug” on anyone, even if they were in constant pain and screaming (or issuing muffled complaints from under the ventilator).  You would have the court-ordered inalienable “right” to suffer through every treatment modern medicine has to offer, despite your protests, until your body finally gives up anyway.

So yeah, I’m voting NO on Measure 1.

South Dakota US Senate race back on the map

In South Dakota, as in Kansas, a popular independent candidate may thwart the GOP’s chances of flipping the Senate.

Larry Pressler’s moderate stances and name recognition is making for a serious challenge to what was previously thought to be a lock. The DSCC even likes the poll numbers so much, it’s backing Rick Weiland’s once-quixotic Democratic candidacy. Way to go!

Home stretch for Winnipeg mayor race

Election Day, October 22nd, is fast approaching in Winnipeg.  Seven candidates vie for the prize, including Robert-Falcon Ouellette, who won j5mc’s take on the Winnipeg Free Press candidate matcher.  The race has been particularly dogged by partisanship, or allegations thereof, between the NDP’s Judy Wasylycia-Leis and the PC’s Brian Bowman. Polls indicate that Judy is the favourite to win, with the closest challenger needing to capture the whole of a 10-point pivot.

Advance polls have been open since the 29th, so it should be easier for voters to cast their ballots when they’ve found their match.  Here’s hoping for a good turnout and good public policy!

The Official Party of Empty Lots

There’s nothing that says “I have lots of money and no good ideas” quite like a plot of empty land.  No housing, no farming, not so much as a sidewalk or park bench adorns this lonely stretch of 42nd Street near the Alerus Centre.

There are three signs on this land.  One says it’s for sale.

In the next sign, the petty fief behind this ostentatious display would have us know that they feel they should have an immutable right to tax-free real estate transactions, the bogus logic of Measure 2.

Finally, we’re treated to a sign advertising a party slate of legislative candidates.  Which, when standing in an empty field, can only be read as: backers of nothing, backed by nothing.

Then there’s this other lot, located way outside of District 43, mind you, that’s right where a downtown office tower ought to sit.  After being an eyesore for years, it has been improved to “unkempt hedge” status…

private-park-not-43This is land that could be productive, and all it’s being used for is display.  What a waste!

Legislative Council says Bank of North Dakota unconstitutional

Better watch out — there are legal opinions floating around saying that North Dakota can’t issue you your tax refund anymore.  It’s been thrown out with the bathwater now that the idea of cutting an oil rebate check to all North Dakotans is on the agenda.

Whose legal opinion are we talking about here?  Certainly not the opinions of our constitution’s drafters, or the Supreme Court, or even the Attorney General — in this case the Forum News Service provides us with the opinion of John Walstad of the North Dakota Legislative Council — someone whose opinion of the law greatly influences what does and does not get drafted into a bill.

A civil servant who sounds like an activist making this stand:

“The state’s money is to be used for state purposes and not for donations for some private purpose, no matter how worthwhile it might be,”

It sure sounds like tax refunds, tax credits, school scholarships, loan guarantees, and any number of public-private partnerships –all things that that State of North Dakota does– would be banned by that interpretation of the language.  The Bank of North Dakota, whose existence was actively challenged at inception, was never declared unconstitutional…. so what gives?

Then there’s another question:  On what basis does John Walstad allow himself to talk to the media this week? Because the last time I asked the Legislative Council a question, they quoted me their exception to the State’s Open Records Law. So the Legislative Council gets to pick and choose what it deems to be the public interest — and in this case, it’s “you can’t get a rebate check for oil.”