Lawmaker Sees No Problem Voting for Legislation Limiting Auditor’s Powers Despite Family Connection to Controversial Audit

Rep. Thomas Beadle, R-Fargo during floor debate Friday, Feb. 10, 2017, at the state Capitol in Bismarck. Mike McCleary / Bismarck Tribune

Watch the floor debates in the North Dakota legislature long enough and you’ll eventually see a lawmaker stand up and ask to be excused from voting on an issue because of a conflict of interest.

Sometimes it’s in earnest; sometimes it’s a joke.

At one point in this session one wag jokingly asked to be excused from voting on legislation related to traffic fines because he once got a speeding ticket.

But when legislation to limit the powers of the state auditor’s office came to the House floor – legislation which has proved so controversial it has inspired a referendum campaign – one lawmaker with a direct familial connection to a recent headline-making audit didn’t ask to be excused.

“What’s the conflict? An audit where my stepfather was an idiot and didn’t fill out the form?”

“I already told him he’s a dumbass for that,” Beadle added.

Rep. Tom Beadle, a Republican from Fargo, is the stepson of Fargo City Commissioner and North Dakota State College of Science Vice President Tony Grindberg.

Grindberg was found in a recent audit to have helped negotiate a contract, on behalf of the NDSCS, with his wife’s (and Rep. Beadle’s mother’s) public relations firm without disclosing the relationship officially to the school.

Both Grindberg and NDSCS President John Richman have pushed back hard on the audit’s findings. Richman has gone so far as to insinuate that the auditors are lying when they report that the school attempted to conceal Grindberg’s involvement in the negotiation.

Many, including this observer, feel the NDSCS audit was part of the reason why the legislature moved to clip the auditor’s wings in the closing days of their session.

It’s worth remembering that Grindberg was also a powerful, long-time state Senator at one point.

In a recent Associated Press article, state Rep. Keith Kempenich admitted that current Auditor Josh Gallion’s aggressiveness was part of the reason he backed the language forcing the auditor’s office to seek permission from lawmakers for performance audits.

That article also contained this passage:

One audit that Kempenich said irritated lawmakers, especially some in Fargo, came last month and concluded that the State College of Science in Wahpeton “engaged in inappropriate activities” surrounding its proposed Career Workforce Academy.

Was Beadle one of those lawmakers upset over the NDSCS audit?

“No, I stayed out of the NDSCS audit this whole session because of the Tony thing,” Beadle told me when I spoke with him about the issue, adding that he “made sure” he “wasn’t on the conference committee” for the bill.

Asked if he felt he had conflict on the legislation, because of the involvement of his parents, he asked, “What’s the conflict? An audit where my stepfather was an idiot and didn’t fill out the form?”

“I already told him he’s a dumbass for that,” Beadle added.

He went on to say he voted for the legislation because lawmakers “didn’t feel the communication was there.” He said members of the Legislative Audit and Fiscal Review Committee (LAFRC) were upset they were finding out about audits “in the paper instead of finding out before hand.”

But is that enough of a reason to force the auditor to come begging to the Legislature for permission to conduct a performance audit?

“Looking at it, it probably goes a little further than we intended it to,” Beadle conceded, though he said he didn’t feel there was enough of a problem to call lawmakers back to Bismarck to fix it.

He also admitted the “optics are terrible” on the change. “Josh does a good job,” he said of Gallion. “Josh is a good guy.”

In the interest of full disclosure, Rep. Beadle on multiple occasions served as a guest host for me when I was broadcasting on WDAY AM970, something for which he received no remuneration.

Rob Port is the editor of SayAnythingBlog.com, a columnist for the Forum News Service, and host of the Plain Talk Podcast which you can subscribe to by clicking here.

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