NDSCS President responds to state audit claiming 'inappropriate actions'

WAHPETON, ND (Valley News Live) - A detailed performance audit at the Wahpeton college, North Dakota State College of Science, found several red flags in its Division of Workforce Affairs including conflict of interest, failure to provide information, falling short of goals, and inaccurate reporting.

NDSCS President John Richman is remaining positive and standing behind the college.

"In our response, I think you will see very clearly that we disagree with some of the recommendations that were brought forward," Richman said.

Richman says one recommendation in the report sticks out in his mind that he disagrees with, Recommendation 1-2. This recommendation states in part, “The fund used to pay for the services from Flint Group violated either the SBHE authorization, or the terms of NDSCS’ contract with the South East Education Cooperative (SEEC).”

"There's an indication that we maybe obstructed the process, or we withheld information in the process, and there is no way that we did that,” Richman said.

The report also indicates Tony Grindberg, Vice President of Workforce Affairs helped pick the Flint Group as a consultant on the project, but failed to properly document that his wife is Flint's Chief Financial Officer, creating an undisclosed conflict of interest.

"The evidence that we show clearly, clearly states that no employee, no one at NDSCS, is outside of the compliance of policy or century code at all," Richman said.

Richman says he hopes people read the report as well as his responses before making any judgments.

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ORIGINAL REPORT BY VERONICA MARSHALL:

The state auditor’s report says North Dakota's State College of Science's (NDSCS) Workforce Affairs Division engaged in ‘inappropriate activities’ surrounding a proposed Career Workforce Academy – which include an undisclosed conflict of interest, failure to provide information to the state auditor, and unauthorized and questionable spending of state and local funds. The report also says the school used inappropriate methods to get approval for the Career Workforce Academy.

- Career Workforce Academy -

The bulk of the auditor’s concerns stem from a proposed Career Workforce Academy.

The academy would teach students workforce skills, making the area more attractive to businesses.

Tony Grindberg, the Vice President of Workforce Affairs for NDSCS, is part of the team working to develop the Career Workforce Academy. The report says Grindberg helped pick the Flint Group as a consultant on the project. The advertising group was paid $39,500 in 2018 for its consulting services. But the audit says Grindberg failed to properly document that his wife is Flint’s Chief Financial Officer (CFO), creating an undisclosed conflict of interest.

According to the report, NDSCS management told auditors Grindberg was not involved in the selection and hiring of the Flint Group, but emails later proved otherwise – leading auditors to believe some of the school's management team may have tried to withhold that information and possibly obstruct the investigation.

The audit says NDSCS also inappropriately used state and local dollars to pay the Flint Group’s consulting fees along with part of Grindberg’s salary.

- TrainND Southeast -

The audit also reveals that NDSCS’s Train ND Southeast program (TrainND SE) isn’t reaching its goals, isn’t properly reporting those facts, and it also isn’t being held accountable for those failures.
TrainND is a program that helps adult residents develop business skills. NDSCS runs the southeast division of this program.

Auditors found that TrainND SE was not completing business plans every year. Those plans were also not being approved by the advisory board.

Meanwhile, TrainND SE’s annual report was coming out at the same time as its accountability report – with both using the same data to cover the same topics, creating a redundancy. Additionally, the reports included information from a different program called ApprenticeshipND – creating false and inflated results.

When the reports were corrected by auditors, TrainND SE was not meeting its goals – and currently, there is no accountability process to determine why.

The audit says part of the problem with the results is that staff didn’t receive formal training regarding how to prepare the data for the reporting process or the reports themselves.

- Responses -

In a statement, NDSCS President Dr. John Richman says he’s confident the school’s ‘practices and procedures are in compliance’ with the state.
However, North Dakota University System’s Chancellor Mark Hagerott provided a response to the auditor’s report – agreeing with each recommendation set forth.