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North Dakota AG Wrigley says predecessor accrued $1.8M cost overrun

North Dakota Attorney General Drew Wrigley told lawmakers his predecessors accrued $1.8 million in unanticipated costs while making specifications to a leased building in Bismarck. Lawmakers voted to investigate the matter.

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North Dakota Attorney General Drew Wrigley.
Chris Flynn/The Forum
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BISMARCK — North Dakota Attorney General Drew Wrigley told lawmakers Tuesday, June 28, his predecessors racked up $1.8 million in unanticipated costs while making specifications to a leased building and waited six months to tell their office's budgeting wing about the problem.

A former deputy attorney general disputes the way Wrigley characterized the aftermath of the cost overrun and said the office did nothing wrong.

Legislators voted Tuesday to investigate the overrun and how officials handled it.

Wrigley told the Legislature's Budget Section that former Attorney General Wayne Stenehjem and former Deputy Attorney General Troy Seibel learned in January 2021 they had to pay for $1.8 million in unexpected costs tied to specifications for a south Bismarck office building.

The building owned by Bismarck-based Stealth Properties is now occupied by the Bureau of Criminal Investigation, the State Lottery, the State Fire Marshal and several other branches of the attorney general's office.

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North Dakota Attorney General Wayne Stenehjem.
Former North Dakota Attorney General Wayne Stenehjem.
Forum News Service file photo

Wrigley, who was appointed after Stenehjem died earlier this year , said Stenehjem and Seibel didn't tell the budget staff in the office about the unplanned costs until June 2021.

The office eventually drew $1.4 million from other parts of the office's budget to pay for most of the unanticipated costs and agreed to pay the remaining $400,000 through regular rent payments, Wrigley said.

Wrigley said budget staff informed him of the cost overrun a day after Seibel resigned in March of this year. Wrigely said the overrun did not factor into Seibel's resignation.

Seibel challenged much of what Wrigley told lawmakers.

The former deputy attorney general told Forum News Service he immediately consulted with the office's financial department upon learning of the cost overrun and continued to inform budget staff of the issue as he received more information.

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Troy Seibel.
Submitted photo

Seibel said costs came in so much higher than the initial estimates because pandemic-related supply shortages inflated the price of construction materials needed to build an addition on the building. He said the office was contractually obligated to pay the higher costs, adding that the state saved money in the long run by putting several departments under one roof.

The office's contract was never amended to reflect the $400,000 in additional rent payments, though Wrigley said his office is working to fix that. Seibel does not dispute that the contract had not been changed.

Though Wrigley does not believe there were any criminal violations associated with the cost overrun, he believes his predecessors were "non-communicative" with budget staff and failed to comply with standard contracting procedures.

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Seibel said he and Stenehjem handled the cost overrun properly and made the necessary adjustments to fulfill the office's contractual obligations.

Wrigley said he voluntarily brought the matter forward to lawmakers because he wants to be as transparent and cooperative as possible.

The Budget Section voted on Tuesday to have the Legislative Audit and Fiscal Review Committee investigate the cost overrun and its subsequent handling. The Government Administration Committee, which is already studying office space needs, will also look into the overrun.

House Majority Leader Chet Pollert, R-Carrington, said lawmakers need to examine the handling of the overrun to determine if the attorney general's office under Stenehjem followed state procurement rules.

"Obviously there's something that fell through the cracks and we need to find out why," Pollert said.

House Minority Leader Josh Boschee, D-Fargo, took a harder stance against Stenehjem and Seibel.

"It completely dumbfounds me that the highest ranking attorney and his deputy blatantly ignored state procurement and contracting procedures to secure a lease that now leaves North Dakotans overpaying for leased office space," Boschee said in a statement.

Jeremy Turley is a Bismarck-based reporter for Forum News Service, which provides news coverage to publications owned by Forum Communications Company.
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