BISMARCK — The president of the North Dakota State College of Science disputed some recent audit findings in a presentation to state lawmakers Wednesday, July 17, but said his institution is making some changes in response to the report.
State auditors said in April that a college administrator was directly involved in hiring a consulting firm that employed his wife and didn't adequately disclose the relationship. They also reported that college officials failed to provide information they requested regarding the procurement process, which they said may violate state law.
NDSCS President John Richman told the Legislative Audit and Fiscal Review Committee that "there was no policy violation" on the first issue because Tony Grindberg, the college's vice president of workforce affairs, didn't recommend or select Flint Group, where his wife works as chief financial officer.
"The employee was fulfilling their job duties as a courier of information," Richman said.
Grindberg, who's a Fargo city commissioner and a former state lawmaker, previously said he "probably" should have disclosed his wife's work affiliation on a statement of business interest form. Richman previously said Karen Grindberg's work with Flint Group was known by college administrators and others.
Further, Richman told lawmakers that college officials didn't "obstruct or mislead" the auditor's office because they "never received a specific, written request for emails." State auditors ultimately obtained the emails through a records request to the North Dakota University System office.
"Our interpretation of the two questions that came to us were very subjective and open to interpretation," Richman said Wednesday. "We interpreted that as documents that pertain to the selection of the company. And again, that selection process was done over the phone with myself and the owner of the company."
State Auditor Josh Gallion disagreed on that point, highlighting for legislators emails included in the audit report showing a NDSCS official agreeing that there were "no email correspondence regarding a proposal or procurement of services for the Workforce Career Academy between NDSCS and Flint Group."
"I feel that the auditors were very thorough in their requests," Gallion, a Republican, told lawmakers.
In an interview during a break in the committee meeting, Richman said he and the auditor may have to "agree to disagree."
But Richman told lawmakers the college has revised its business interest form because it was "somewhat confusing" for employees and tasked a procurement employee with more thoroughly tracking the documents. He said they also made conflict of interest training a standalone feature rather than part of an overall training.
Regarding the dispute over emails, Richman said college officials realized they needed to ask better clarifying questions of auditors. To that end, he said they've established a "communication plan."
The legislative audit committee didn't take any immediate actions regarding the NDSCS audit report. The State Board of Higher Education, which oversees the public campuses in the state, late last month called for an "action plan" for the college that was still being finalized as of early Wednesday afternoon.
Also in late June, the board approved Richman's contract for two years and a salary of $204,296, a 1.2% increase from last year.