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Shaw: Things that stink

This week, InForum columnist runs through three things that stink, including the vault bathrooms at the Fargo National Cemetery, the deletion of Wayne Stenehjem's emails and Rep. Michelle Fischbach's recent actions on Capitol Hill.

Jim Shaw
Jim Shaw
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The idea of a vault restroom at the Fargo National Cemetery should be flushed away. The restroom is really a glorified outhouse. It’s part of a $250,000 project that includes a wind wall and storage building. It was approved by the cemetery division of the Department of Veterans Affairs.

“It’s pretty degrading,” said Tom Krabbenhoft, spokesman for the Fargo-Moorhead Honor Guard. “We don’t want it. We weren’t consulted about it. I have yet to meet any veteran or family who thinks this is a good idea. It’s a waste of money.”

Those at the cemetery have to deal with brutal weather in a rural location. The cemetery desperately needs a building and a parking lot. That building would have bathrooms, a chapel and a family gathering area.

“I don’t understand why they’re pushing it. It’s absolutely ludicrous,” Krabbenhoft told me.

Local veterans are trying to raise the $2 to $2.5 million they will need to purchase land, construct a building and a parking lot. So far, they have raised $730,000. The federal government should cancel the toilet project and apply that $250,000 towards the veterans building plan. Better yet, seeing as how it’s a national cemetery, the government should pay for the entire building project.

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Speaking of things that stink, there are the emails inexcusably deleted from former North Dakota Attorney General Wayne Stenehjem’s account shortly after he died at the urging of his executive assistant Liz Brocker. Those emails were public records. Deleting them appears to be illegal.

It all raises the question of why were the emails deleted? What did Brocker not want the public to see? Was it related to the $1.8 million in cost overruns run-up by Stenehjem involving leased office space? Something else? We’ll never know.

Attorney General Drew Wrigley made the wrong decision in rejecting calls for an outside investigation. There absolutely needs to be a criminal investigation by an outside agency. The Legislature will also need to review the state’s open record laws.

READ MORE ABOUT WAYNE STENEHJEM'S EMAILS
Did Rep. Jason Dockter, a Bismarck-area Republican, really think that this sort of dealing, assuming it's all technically in compliance with state law, would pass the smell test with the public? If he didn't, he's a fool, and if he did, you have to wonder why he went ahead with it anyway.
"It's obvious that whatever was deleted was deemed more harmful than any heat the deletions might bring. In Wayne Stenehjem's case, Liz Brocker read the tea leaves correctly. Stenehjem's replacement, Drew Wrigley, has chosen to simply look the other way."
"I am only aware of the information reported by the media and there is not anything that has been reported that causes me to believe a crime occurred to make a referral," Julie Lawyer says of the deleted email scandal in the North Dakota Attorney General's Office.
Attorney General Drew Wrigley is the hero of this story, not the villain.
There are plenty of honest questions about this situation that are unanswered. A thorough, independent investigation could perhaps answer some of them. At the very least, it could illuminate which steps need to be taken to keep this from happening again.
State agencies are required to maintain a records retention schedule with the state's chief information officer. The Attorney General's Office has one for electronic communications, but it doesn't do much.
"You have been very understanding and patient as we worked together during the transition, but I believe we both now recognize that we will not achieve the close working relationship that is vital between the Attorney General and his Executive Assistant," Liz Brocker wrote in an email to Attorney General Drew Wrigley.
Attorney General Drew Wrigley talks about how the email account of his predecessor, and his predecessor's deputy, were deleted without the knowledge of himself or any attorney or supervisor in his office.
North Dakota's open records law have a gaping loophole in them when it comes to records retention, and someone in the attorney general's office just drove a semi-truck through it.
While responding to Forum News Service's records request about a budget overrun, North Dakota Attorney General Drew Wrigley said he learned earlier this month that former Attorney General Wayne Stenehjem's email account was deleted on Jan. 31 — three days after his death.
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.
"Did You Know That" columnist Curt Eriksmoen reflects on

The one good thing that came out of this was Brocker’s resignation. Under Brocker (and presumably with Stenehjem’s blessing), the North Dakota Attorney General’s office became the most inaccessible, unfriendly and unhelpful state government office in North Dakota.

Good to see North Dakota Rep. Kelly Armstrong vote to codify same-sex marriage. Shame on Minnesota Rep. Michelle Fischbach for voting against it. Shame on both of them for voting against protecting access to contraception.

In a recent interview with the Minneapolis Star Tribune, Fischbach said she hasn’t been watching the January 6 hearings, claiming “I’ve got better things to do.”

Either Fischbach is a liar or she has her head in the sand. You would think that a member of Congress would want to learn more about a violent attempt to overthrow our government. Especially Fischbach, who shamefully voted to overturn the presidential election results without any credible evidence of significant voting fraud.

Shaw is a former WDAY TV reporter and former KVRR TV news director.

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This column does not necessarily reflect the opinion of The Forum's editorial board nor Forum ownership.

READ MORE FROM INFORUM COLUMNIST JIM SHAW
InForum columnist Jim Shaw argues it's high time for North Dakota to legalize marijuana. "I have never smoked marijuana, and don’t encourage it," Shaw writes. "However, the time has come for North Dakota, like 19 other states and Washington, D.C. to legalize it, regulate it and bring in millions of dollars in taxes."

Opinion by Jim Shaw
InForum columnist Jim Shaw is a former WDAY TV reporter and former KVRR TV news director.
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