Federal Government Defunds National Heritage Area Grants Citing Cronyism
SAB readers are familiar with the ugly, corrupt process which instituted a National Heritage Area here in North Dakota. The original legislation, the brain child of former state Senator Tracy Potter and ushered through the Senate by former Senator Byron Dorgan, locked millions of acres of land into a National Heritage Area called the Northern Plains Heritage Area. None of the property owners were notified of their land being designated, and originally they weren’t given the option of removing themselves from it.
The process which created the land designation was corrupt too. Potter testified before Congress that he had buy-in from local governing entities for the designation. “In public hearings before city and county commissions the meaning of such a program has been discussed and the commissions have unanimously provided their encouragement,” Potter told a congressional committee. But the National Park Service disagreed, with an assistant director of that organization telling Congress that Potter’s plan “did not include the existence of significant levels of public involvement and support and the local commitments necessary for successful planning and implementation of a heritage area.”
But regardless, the land designation was approved by Congress and funded with millions in federal tax dollars. But the hinky politics haven’t stopped there. The non-profit foundation Potter heads, the Fort Abraham Lincoln Foundation, just happened to get the contract to manage the land designation that Potter helped set up. Now the National Park Service has announced that they’re pulling federal funds from grants awarded by the NPHA over obvious conflicts of interest:
McVay and Sue Pridemore, the National Heritage Area program manager, started looking into the matter less than two weeks ago, when one of the unsuccessful applicants posed questions about the committee’s makeup and process.
What they found was that three of the four grant committee members either serve on boards or are affiliated with organizations that received grant money.
They also found that the grant committee did not score or rate the applications in order to document their decisions.
Pridemore said that without documentation and the fact that some members of the committee also were applicants, “It opens the door to questions. It’s very awkward to have the appearance of a conflict of interest and we want to get everyone out of the appearance of that happening.”
Specifically, one of the grant committee members is affiliated with the Knife River Indian Heritage Foundation, which received a $29,500 grant to add an education and meeting center to the 7 Trails Trading Post near Stanton. Two of the grant committee members are board directors of the Fort Abraham Lincoln Foundation, which was awarded $20,000 to create a lodge to interpret archaeology.
Potter, as you might imagine, says it’s all “malarkey.”
Potter said it’s “malarkey” to say that any grant committee member has a conflict of interest. “Because you’re on a board doesn’t mean you’re biased. We’re rooting for all them,” he said.
Potter’s chutzpah would be humorous if it weren’t so in-your-face dishonest. Of course it’s problematic to sit on a board like this and award tax dollars to other organizations you also represent. In fact, in North Dakota that more than likely raises to the level of a crime:
Section 12.1-23-07 of the North Dakota Century Code deals with the “Misapplication of entrusted property.” It reads:
A person is guilty of misapplication of entrusted property if the person disposes of, uses, or transfers any interest in property that has been entrusted to the person as a fiduciary, or in the person’s capacity as a public servant or an officer, director, agent, employee of, or a person controlling a financial institution, in a manner that the person knows is not authorized and that the person knows to involve a risk of loss or detriment to the owner of the property or to the government or other person for whose benefit the property was entrusted.
This is beyond cronyism. In my opinion, this is criminal. Where there any justice in the world, there would be indictments over this, but Potter may have an out in that none of these grants were actually appropriated it seems.Tags: Asshats, National Heritage Area, national park service, North Dakota News, northern plains heritage area, Tracy Potter