BISMARCK — The North Dakota State College of Science has a plan in place to help it move forward after a "significant and troubling" audit released more than a year ago found conflicts of interest in hiring a firm to promote the school's workforce academy.
The State Board of Higher Education Audit Committee gave unanimous preliminary approval during a Monday, June 29, special meeting to the plan that was meant to improve procedures at NDSCS. It's expected to go before the full board on Tuesday.
"We found it valuable to go through," NDSCS President John Richman said. "It is long, it is lengthy, but I think in all, a lot of good has come from this audit and the responses to the audit."
The 312-page plan, which includes 32 actions implemented at the school, was the response to a state audit released in April 2019. It concluded Tony Grindberg, North Dakota State College of Science vice president of workforce affairs, did not disclose on paper that his wife, Karen, is the chief financial officer for the Flint Group, the firm the school hired to promote a proposed career workforce academy in Cass County.
State Auditor Josh Gallion also said NDSCS failed to produce hundreds of emails related to the academy and Flint Group when the school said that correspondence didn't exist. The auditor's office later received those emails in a similar request to the North Dakota University System.
NDSCS contested those findings and other claims in the audit but agreed to work with the chancellor to develop an action plan to fix those issues. The SBHE voted to allow work to begin on the plan on June 27, 2019.
Most of the documents in the packet presented Monday are reports the committee has already reviewed, Chancellor Mark Hagerott said. The hundreds of pages show a year's worth of work and strategies to improve how NDSCS operates, he said.
The board and NDUS staff gave a lot of attention and energy to the audit, Hagerott said. The work has helped NDSCS sharpen its terminology and procedures, Richman said.
The audit was "significant and troubling," state higher education board member Kathy Neset said, but she added she hopes it has helped lead to a stronger program and audit process at NDSCS.
"It's nice to see a positive thing come out of such a troubling situation and report," she said.
Some questioned whether NDSCS officials should face criminal charges, but the state Legislature did not forward the audit to the attorney general's office for review. Cass County State's Attorney Birch Burdick also declined to pursue a criminal case connected to the audit.
The Legislative Audit and Fiscal Review Committee is expected to revisit the audit on July 7.
"We're looking forward to drawing some closure to this," Richman said.