Government Facilities Should Serve the Public Not Politicians

File photo of Republican State Senator Tom Campbell (R-Grafton) in Bismarck, N.D. (Logan Werlinger/Grand Forks Herald)

Yesterday, in an act of rank parochialism, a majority in North Dakota’s Senate voted down a resolution which would have studied the efficacy of one of our state’s 15 constitutionally-mandated public institutions.

Specifically, the Life Skills and Training Center in Grafton which has a very large budget, a very large payroll, and not a lot of patients. Among the missions of the study would be to explore whether our state would be better served by shutting the facility down.

But the more than 300 jobs the center provides in Grafton are a political football, and yesterday Senators from that part of the state – including ambitious Senator Tom Campbell who has been wearing his intent to run for higher office on his sleeve for years now – were able to keep possession of it.

The Grafton facility, which is over a century old, was created in a different age of institutional-based mental health care. It has long since outlived its usefulness as a vehicle for delivering services to the disabled.

To the glee of the Grand Forks Herald editorial board, unfortunately, which argues that next time lawmakers looking to even study the facility they ought to some political horse trading.

“The next time reformers want to take away Grafton’s constitutional protection, they’ve got to get Grafton’s consent,” opinion editor Tom Dennis writes for the paper. “How? By holding Grafton harmless—say, by relocating some other major state function there.”

I’m struggling to see the sense in that comment. How could lawmakers appease a community like Grafton by relocating more government jobs there without taking away those jobs from another community? Is the only way to approach shutting down or moving a facility like Grafton’s to set off a cascade of political recrimination as we shuffle government jobs around the state? Or should the Legislature just invent some make-work for Grafton?

That’s hardly conducive to the goal of efficient and re-invented government which Governor Doug Burgum, fresh off a landslide election day victory, has charged state leaders with pursuing.

But remember, yesterday’s resolution wouldn’t have necessarily closed the Grafton facility. It was a study. And if the Grafton facility is the best way to serve our state’s severely mentally disabled citizens, why are its supporters so afraid of the public getting a look behind the curtain?

Maybe because they know the truth. The Grafton facility, which is over a century old, was created in a different age of institutional-based mental health care. It has long since outlived its usefulness as a vehicle for delivering services to the disabled.

It’s being kept alive now because of its usefulness to politicians and government bureaucrats.

Rob Port is the editor of SayAnythingBlog.com, a columnist for the Forum News Service, and the host of the Rob (Re)Port on Fargo-based WDAY AM970 from noon-2pm weekdays.

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