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 politics@wday.com (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.

Around the Capitol

Here are some odds and ends from state government today:

The North Dakota Ag Department is starting a weekly Internet radio show called “North Dakota Now.”

It will air at 11 a.m. CT Wednesdays at http://northdakotanow.podbean.com./.

Ag Commissioner Doug Goehring said the program can also be heard through a link at  http://www.agdepartment.com/.

The weekly program will include a newscast, feature stories on Pride of Dakota companies, updates on department activities and other information, Goehring said.

“It’s not just for farmers and ranchers. There’s something of interest for almost everyone,” he said in a statement.

The upcoming program includes an interview with Goehring about a recent trade mission to Cuba, a feature on Pride of Dakota member Golden Valley Flax, the news and an interview with Judy Carlson about a new noxious weed poster.

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Insurance Commissioner Adam Hamm announced his support today for graduated drivers licensing in North Dakota.

Supporters say the bill is aimed at reducing teen traffic accidents and deaths. The North Dakota Legislature will consider the bill, which recommends three phases of licensing for new drivers.

North Dakota now has two phases—a learner’s permit and a driver’s license—and is the only state in the nation without a graduated drivers license system, according to a news release from the state Insurance Department.

The additional phase, intermediate, includes conditions on the number of passengers, cell phone use and nighttime recreational driving during the first few months of unsupervised driving.
 
“Motor vehicle crashes are the leading cause of teen deaths in North Dakota,” Hamm said in a statement. “This bill aims to reduce the three greatest risks for young drivers—inexperience, distractions and late night driving.”
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North Dakota’s Register of Champion Trees has a new addition.

The register is the official list of the first and second largest trees of each native and non-native species in the state.

The European (horse) chestnut (Aesculus hippocastanum) owned by Peter Feist, 1418 Porter Ave., Bismarck, was added to the register.  The new state champion has 104 points for having a circumference of 5-feet 2-inches, a height of 35 feet and an average crown spread of 26 feet.

Champion trees on public land can usually be visited without a problem, the North Dakota Forest Service said in a news release.  However, if a champion tree is on private property, the Forest Service recommends asking for permission before making a visit.

All state champion tree records are on file at the headquarters of the NDSU-North Dakota Forest Service and can be viewed at http://www.ndsu.edu/ndfs/under Information and Education.

Pride of Dakota holiday showcases set records

BISMARCK – More shoppers than ever participated in the four 2010 Pride of Dakota Holiday Showcases in November and December, the state Ag Department said today.

A new record of 28,661 people took part in this year’s events, Agriculture Commissioner Doug Goehring said in a news release. The new total passed the previous mark by 3,028. In addition to the overall record total, each showcase set a new attendance record.

Attendance at the Grand Forks showcase was 5,630, up 315 from the previous record. The Minot showcase was up 569 customers for a total of 6,115. In Fargo, 7,542 people passed the previous record by 1,194.

The Bismarck showcase was up by 951 shoppers, Goehring said. The new total of 9,374 is the most for any holiday showcase, he said.

Goehring said about 10,000 people brought reusable shopping bags and received $1 off the cost of admission.

More than 460 North Dakota companies are Pride of Dakota members.

Republican rallies

North Dakota’s Republican candidates will tour the state in the coming days in one last campaign burst before Election Day.

U.S. Senate candidate Gov. John Hoeven, U.S. House candidate Rep. Rick Berg of Fargo and the Republicans running for state office will cross the state on a bus tour and host rallies.  

State-level candidates on the tour are Attorney General Wayne Stenehjem, Secretary of State Al Jaeger, Public Service Commissioner Kevin Cramer, Agriculture Commissioner Doug Goehring and Tax Commissioner Cory Fong.

Here’s the tour schedule: 

SATURDAY, OCTOBER 30: 

10:00 AM:         Kick-off Rally at Bismarck GOP Headquarters

1029 N. 5th Street, Bismarck, ND 58501 

1:00 PM:            Rally at Minot Victory Center

1310 E. Burdick Expressway, Minot, ND 58701 

4:30 PM:            Rally at Williston GOP District Headquarters

11 St. & Main St, across from Harmon Park, Williston, ND 58801 

7:00 PM MT:     Meet-and-Greet with Dickinson Supporters

                           Dickinson State University Alumni Association Office

230 8th Ave, Dickinson, ND 58601-4819 

MONDAY, NOVEMBER 1:

12:00 PM:        Rally at Grand Forks Victory Center

                        1923 Gateway Drive, Grand Forks, ND 58203 

2:00 PM:       

                          Meet-and-Greet in Larimore, ND

Good Friends Restaurant

220 Towner Ave, Larimore, ND 58251

6:00 PM:          Final Rally at Fargo Holiday Inn

                        Executive Room

                        3803 13th Ave S, Fargo, ND 58103

Pride of Dakota Harvest Showcase set for Dickinson

From a news release:

BISMARCK – The second Pride of Dakota Harvest Showcase will draw nearly 100 Pride of Dakota companies and hundreds of visitors Sept. 18-19 to the Dickinson Recreation Center.

North Dakota Agriculture Commissioner Doug Goehring said Pride of Dakota member companies will sell foods and condiments, decorative items, jewelry, art, apparel and much more.

“All of these products are made right here in North Dakota by North Dakotans,” he said in a statement. “Many vendors will also be offering samples.”

Showcase hours are 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Saturday and 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. Sunday (Mountain Time). Admission is $1 per person, with children under 12 free.

The Dickinson Recreation Center is at 1865 Empire Road. From Interstate 94, turn south at Exit 59, turn left on Empire Road and drive east. The recreation center is at the intersection of Empire Road and State Avenue.

The Pride of Dakota Holiday Showcases are scheduled for Nov. 6-7 in Grand Forks, Nov. 13-14 in Minot, Nov. 19-21 in Fargo, and Dec. 3-5 in Bismarck.

Housing Market Survey Grant program

BISMARCK—The Industrial Commission has authorized the North Dakota Housing Finance Agency to spend $50,000 in reserves for a Housing Market Survey Grant program.

The cost-sharing program encourages rural communities to conduct market surveys before undertaking housing development projects, a news release said.

“Many of North Dakota’s rural communities are experiencing economic growth and increases in population,” Gov. John Hoeven said in a statement. “By offering these communities a financial incentive to conduct market surveys, NDHFA is ensuring that local leaders have a good understanding of their communities’ housing needs.”

“The traditional landscape of rural North Dakota is changing, especially in energy-impacted areas,” Agriculture Commissioner Doug Goehring said in a statement. “In addition to these grants, NDFHA is aiding communities by providing development funding and technical assistance.”

Rural communities of 20,000 or less, or non-profit organizations representing or partnering with such communities, may apply for a grant of up to $5,000 to cover up to 50 percent of out-of-pocket costs of a survey.

“Before attempting to tackle housing shortfalls on their own, we encourage local leadership to conduct a market survey,” said Jolene Kline, the finance agency’s planning and housing development director. “NDHFA’s approach is to look at the housing needs of all the citizens in the area and create a strategy from there.”

Grants have funded surveys in Adams, Billings, Bowman, Dunn, Golden Valley, Grand Forks, Hettinger, McHenry, Mercer, Slope and Stark counties; and the cities of Cooperstown, Drayton, Ellendale, Hannaford, Harvey, Hazelton, Leeds, Linton, Maddock, Northwood, Oakes, Tioga, Underwood, Wahpeton, Williston and Wimbledon.

For more information on the Housing Market Survey Grant program, contact Kline at (701) 328-8080, (800) 292-8621, (800) 366-6888 (TTY) or info@ndhfa.org.

Goehring urges corn producers to seek legal advice

BISMARCK—Agriculture Commissioner Doug Goehring is urging corn producers to consult an attorney if they receive a letter from a New York law firm telling them they must repay money they received from corn sales to bankrupt ethanol producer VeraSun Energy Corp.

“If you get one of these letters, you should talk to your attorney or a bankruptcy attorney before taking any action,” Goehring said in a statement. “You must not ignore the letter, but do not respond or sign anything until you have gotten legal advice.”

According to a news release, several North Dakota producers reported receiving the letter last week telling them they have until Sept. 30 to repay 80 percent of any payments for corn sold to VeraSun in the 90-day period before company’s bankruptcy filing on Oct. 31, 2008.

The letter cites a provision of federal bankruptcy law giving unsecured creditors in bankruptcy filings a second chance at any assets of the bankrupt company.

More information on legal issues surrounding the VeraSun bankruptcy preference letters is available at www.calt.iastate.edu/briefs/CALT%20Legal%20Brief%20-%20Verasun-Trustee%20Recovery.pdf.

Goehring urges producers with questions about the letters to contact Dane Braun at the North Dakota Department of Agriculture at (701) 328-4764 or danebraun@nd.gov.

Goehring appoints feed specialist

From a news release:

Agriculture Commissioner Doug Goehring has appointed David Phillips as a feed specialist in the North Dakota Department of Agriculture.

A South Dakota native and graduate of the South Dakota State University, Phillips worked for the feed division of Cargill, and then managed elevators in North Dakota, South Dakota and Montana. He was the location manager of South Central Grain in Wishek before joining the state Ag Department.

In his new job, Phillips will review commercial feed and pet food labels and commercial feed manufacturer and retailer license applications. He will oversee the feed sampling program, including gathering of commercial feed and pet food samples to ensure compliance with labeling claims, and he will conduct inspections of feed manufacturers and retailers.

Goehring said the duties of the new position reflect the importance of the feed industry in the state.

“The department is committed to growing North Dakota’s livestock industry, and that will require availability of quality feed products,” he said in a statement. “By creating a specific feed position with expanded duties, such as public outreach on regulatory and policy issues and tracking national regulatory issues that impact North Dakota, we can better respond to the needs of this important industry.”

Approximately 5,400 animal feeds and 5,000 pet food products are registered in North Dakota.

Farmers market vendors allow EBT cards

Nine North Dakota farmers market vendors are taking part in a pilot program to let Supplemental Nutrition Assistance recipients use their benefits to buy locally-grown produce.

The vendors are Catherine’s for Lamb, Cutbank Creek Garden, Elizabeth Eckert, Enders Farms, Prairie Produce, Ruso Ranch and North Star Farms, all located at North Prairie Farmers Market in Minot; Skyline Ranch Produce operating in Bismarck, Washburn, Hazen and Beulah; and Erbes Farm at the Great Plains Produce Association Farmers Market in Fargo.

The pilot program is a joint effort of the North Dakota Department of Agriculture and the North Dakota Department of Human Services.

“The ability to use SNAP benefits at farmers markets makes fresh food available to people who did not have the option of buying food from farmers,” Agriculture Commissioner Doug Goehring said in a statement. “North Dakota farmers in turn get access to a new market.”

The Department of Human Services earmarked $10,000 to help vendors buy equipment to scan EBT cards. The state Ag Department also provided staff and funding for the pilot program.

Participating vendors must be approved by USDA Food and Nutrition Services. The booths of vendors accepting EBT cards will be identified with a “SNAP benefits welcome here” poster.

About $8 million in benefits are issued each month to North Dakotans to buy food. The program helps about 60,000 low-income North Dakotans. Almost half of the participants are children; many others are elderly or disabled.

Individuals can apply for the program at county social service offices.

Goehring announces age/source beef verification program

BISMARCK—A new, voluntary program to help market North Dakota beef domestically and abroad was unveiled Tuesday.

North Dakota Verified Livestock allows livestock producers and feeding operations to verify the age and source of their animals, Agriculture Commissioner Doug Goehring said in a statement. This information is required by beef importing countries, such as South Korea and Japan.

The program was authorized by the Legislature. Rather than build a new program, the North Dakota Department of Agriculture opted for a five-year contract with AgInfoLink, a federally-licensed, Colorado-based company with experience with similar programs in other states, Goehring said.

The age and source verification will be provided through AgInfoLink’s USDA-approved Process Verified Program, he said. The department will enroll, train and audit producers and feeding operations.

Goehring said there is still time for producers to enroll in the program and be able to market this year’s calf crop as age/source verified.

“Signing up for the new program is easy and completely voluntary,” Goehring said in a statement. “We are encouraging producers to contact the department to learn more about this opportunity.”

North Dakota Verified Livestock will be identified by specially designed tags manufactured by AllFlex USA. 

The cost of the program for producers is $2.75 per radio frequency identification tag or $4.05 per head for both RFID and visual ear tags. Feedlot enrollment is $275 per year.

Goehring said the age/source records of 10 percent of the enrolled producers and all enrolled feeding operations will be audited annually for accuracy and program compliance.