Today’s Ask Your Government

Dear readers,

I briefly ran out of your questions, so I asked a question of my own this week. I’ll return to your questions soon, now that I have several again.

With the recent interest in presidents and their vacations, I decided to look at vacation time used by North Dakota elected officials.

I started with Office of Management and Budget Director Pam Sharp. She said elected officials are free to set their schedules and days off. They do not report annual leave hours or sick leave.

From there, I contacted several elected officials to ask how much vacation time they take. Here’s how they responded:

Attorney General Wayne Stenehjem

How many days off have you taken this year?

Annual leave: 9 days. Funeral Leave: 4 days. Sick leave: 0 days.

How many days off did you take in 2010?

Annual leave: 9 days. Sick leave: 0 days.

How do you go about determining how many days off you take each year? 

“I have no set policy for taking time off, but coordinate vacation days with my wife’s schedule.

“The ‘annual leave’ days are for days taken off during the regular work week. It does not count weekend and evening work that is always a part of the job, which would more than exceed the annual leave days taken.

“For comparison purposes, after 10 years of employment, state employees are entitled to 18 days of vacation per year.”

Gov. Jack Dalrymple

Since becoming governor on Dec. 7, Dalrymple has taken 5½ days off, spokesman Jeff Zent said. Records of his schedule from 2010, when he was lieutenant governor, have been purged from the system and are no longer available, Zent said.

As governor, Dalrymple has worked weekends and holidays totaling 15 days, Zent said. That includes only public meetings and events, not his personal time attending to state business, he said.

Insurance Commissioner Adam Hamm

How many days off have you taken this year?

Nine. This included the week he spent with his kids before they started school this year and with their new Great Dane puppy. As for sick days, he said there’s usually a day or two each year when he’s not in the office.

How many days off did you take in 2010?

Eleven, including family trips to Mount Rushmore and Disney World (eight of those 11 days were on these trips).

How do you go about determining how many days off you take each year?

“I do my best to try to find some quality time to spend with my wife and kids (age 13 and 10) each year. Most often it’s during the summer. It all depends on my schedule and their schedules regarding when I can take a few days off to spend time with them.”

Ag Commissioner Doug Goehring

How many days off have you taken this year?

Vacation: One half day in April. Sick days: None.

How many days off did you take in 2010?

Vacation: One long weekend to include a Friday and Monday in May. Sick days: None.

How do you go about determining how many days off you take each year?

“There is a lot of work to do in the Ag Department. I feel if I am asked to attend a meeting … there is an expectation for me to attend. I haven’t taken one complete day away from the office in the last year.

“I have planned on taking vacations, at the very least a long weekend, but I usually end up canceling my plans.

“I wouldn’t mind taking some time away from the office, but I haven’t found a time when vacation days are compatible with my work schedule. I would like to take some time off at the end of this year.”

Superintendent of Public Instruction Wayne Sanstead

Sanstead said he doesn’t record the days he takes off. However, he said he’d have a “fair amount of time coming” if he could build up paid time off like other workers.

He said he missed some days last year when his wife had health problems, and he takes off for the occasional cold. He will also try to take a weekday off if he works during the weekend.

The only time he can recall taking a full week off was to go on a cruise with his wife for their 50th wedding anniversary four years ago.

It’s a matter of decision-making and being responsible, he said.

“It’s a leadership role after all. People are going to notice if you’re gone all the time, I think,” Sanstead said. “I think people pay attention, understandably so.”

Tax Commissioner Cory Fong

Like Sanstead, Fong doesn’t keep official track of days off. However, he provided estimates.

How many days off have you taken this year?

5.5 days of vacation time and just over a day of sick leave.

How many days off did you take in 2010?

I took just under 7.5 days of vacation and 3.25 days of sick leave.

How do you go about determining how many days off you take each year?

“I look at the work load with which I am dealing, the issues that are being handled – as well as those that are on the horizon, i.e. upcoming legislative hearings during this interim – and the coverage (of) members of the management team during the time I am planning to be out of the office. Ultimately, though, I need to be available as much as possible and to the extent practical for all taxpayers and residents.”

I also asked the elected officials if they think there should be a set policy for their vacation time or if the current system works. The general consensus was they typically work more than 40-hour weeks, and the current system of determining their own amount of time off works.

“We are expected to work as many hours as it takes to get the job done,” Goehring said.

Do you have a question for a North Dakota state government official or agency? Send us your question, and we’ll do our best to find an answer.

E-mail (Subject: Ask your government).

You may also write to Teri Finneman c/o Forum Communications, Press Room, State Capitol, Bismarck, N.D. 58505.

Please include your name, town and a phone number to reach you for verification.