ND Legislature Hall Of Shame Week 6: Rep. Lawrence Klemin And Rep. Nancy Johnson


It was tempting to name every single Republican who voted “no” on HB1256 this week to the SAB Hall of Shame, but I wanted to focus instead on those who rose to argue against the bill which would have created a central state database for all local spending in the state.

Rep. Nancy Johnson spoke of a new website dedicated to indexing, and making searchable, local spending as costing in the ballpark of $390,000. “We didn’t think it was appropriate to tack on that kind of cost right now.” But that’s cheap compared to the benefit for citizens, journalists and (ahem), bloggers. I’m about as fiscally conservative as they come, but spending $390,000 to make local spending facts more accessible is a bargain.

But Rep. Johnson’s silly objection to the cost of the bill paled in comparison to Rep. Lawrence Kelmin’s far more absurd argument. “What this is requiring to be done is something that can be obtained either on request from all of these several thousand political subdivisions by people who are interested in seeing it,” he argued on the floor of the House.

Klemin is right, spending information is already available upon request from the political subdivisions, but anyone who has ever made some of those requests (and I’ve made a lot of them) know that it can be time consuming. Most local officials are very helpful, but they’re also busy people who can’t immediately respond to every request. What’s more, a minority of them are quite unhelpful and suspicious of good-faith requests for information.

Creating a statewide index of spending would not only mean less work in the long run for local officials, given that most requesting information could be directed to the website where they could find it for themselves, but it would also mean a timelier and more accurate flow of information to the public. Plus, comparisons in spending from city-to-city, or county-to-county, would be immeasurably easier.

Aren’t those things we want?

Rep. Klemin, Rep. Johnson and every other member of the House who voted against this bill weren’t motivated by concerns over cost of duplicative efforts. They’re motivated by a desire to keep local spending opaque, helped along by fierce lobbying efforts from the local governments themselves through groups like the Association of Counties and the League of Cities.

Legislators who vote against the public’s right to know deserve the Hall of Shame.

And, frankly, the North Dakota media should get an honorary mention for the Hall of Shame for not making a bigger stink about legislators roadblocking transparency.

Rob Port is the editor of SayAnythingBlog.com. In 2011 he was a finalist for the Watch Dog of the Year from the Sam Adams Alliance and winner of the Americans For Prosperity Award for Online Excellence. In 2013 the Washington Post named SAB one of the nation's top state-based political blogs, and named Rob one of the state's best political reporters.

Related posts

  • zipity

    Who are you to think you should have access to a database on how state/local governments spend the taxpayers dollars?

    Shut up and hand over your wallet, peasant.

    We know what is best for you. And don’t you forget it….

  • Guest Observer

    Klemin and Johnson, excellent recipients of this weeks SAB “Carly” Award, AKA Hall of Shame.

    • http://sayanythingblog.com Rob

      Carly Award?

      • Guest Observer

        As I mentioned last week, in honor of Al “Carl”son.

        • http://sayanythingblog.com Rob

          Ha, I gotcha.

          I wish I had the budget to buy plaques to be delivered to their desks when they win.

          • Guest Observer

            Actually, it would be cheap enough as we use a service that provides nice plaques at a decent price. I would be willing to chip in.

          • http://sayanythingblog.com Rob

            Let’s talk.

          • Guest Observer

            I’ll call you tomorrow afternoon Rob.

          • RCND

            Even nice certificates would be in order, and cost next to nothing. It would be easy enough to have them delivered to their desks too

          • Opinion8ed

            This would be excellent and I would make a $25 donation to the cause

          • VocalYokel

            Why not send them dead flowers instead?

        • zipity

          Probably be viewed as a “hate-crime”

  • Clint F

    People who advocate for government transparency are clearly part of “hate groups” and probably quite racist.

  • Roy_Bean

    Has anyone looked at the money all these subdivisions pay to publish their “minutes” in the local papers? They print the City Auditor’s version of what went on at the meeting and it often bears little resemblance to the actual meeting. I think there’s a fear of getting on the wrong side of the local editor when they put too much online. This will change when a few get on the wrong side of the local blogger and find out that the local editors aren’t the only game in town.

  • Drain52

    The same lame excuses for not passing SB2283, Infrastructure Audit Bill.

  • Rep. Klemin

    Thanks for the distinction. You neglected to mention that the website would have required budget information from SEVERAL THOUSAND political subdivisions in North Dakota, inlcuding all townships, all counties, all cities, all school districts, all park districts, and all other political subdivisons of every type. Except for the townships, most of this information is already available online for those who want it. For those who don’t have internet access, the budget information is available on request from all of the politcal subdivisions, including the more than 1,400 townships. Most of the townships in North Dakota have few people, although there are some townships with higher populations near the major cities. Why would anyone want to browse through allthese budgets? Just finding them in a list of several thousand would take some time. The initlal fiscal note was over $1 million, but was then scaled back to $390,000 after the sponsor scaled back the requirements.. A website with lists of several thousand budgets is not practical. Not many people would want to look at more than the budgets for their own political subdivisons, which, as mentioned are readily available onlline or on request. I thought you were a fiscal conservative. Although it would be only a “mere $390,000″, it still would be a major waste of time and effort for something that can easily be obtained by other means for the people who might be interested in a particular budget. Every government budget is open to anyone who wants to see it without adding more expense to the process.

    • RCND

      What you failed to mention is that because this information already has to be provided, it can easily be given to a central state repository at the same time. Nice try Rep Klemin. All this shows is you are in the tank for the Association of Counties and League of Cities, and the transparency of government really isn’t a concern of yours

      • Rep. Klemin

        I guess I must also be “in the tank” for the 1,400+ townships that don’t do this. Nevermind the cost.

        • RCND

          Does the fact that they are townships make them less responsible to be transparent? They also have to provide their info to the county, and that county can take care of this requirement for them if it is so onerous. If a township can’t manage something as simple as this, then perhaps they need to dissolve and become an unorganized township of the county.

        • Guest Observer

          Poor excuse. Every government down to the smallest one needs to be transparent. Instead of peeing away all the oil money, use it to create this system. Get into the 21st century
          Rep. Kremlin!

    • Dave

      For the reasons cited above by Rep. Klemen is why there was no hue and cry from the media. They get the info already because it’s generally widely available and easy to get with a phone call, if not. But that doesn’t make for interesting manufactured drama. (;

      • http://sayanythingblog.com Rob

        Actually, I think the reason there’s no hue and cry from the media is because they’re largely not looking into this information.

        What was the last time you saw an expose into some city budget?

        Yeah, didn’t think so.

        This isn’t manufactured drama. Transparency is a real problem in North Dakota, and people like Rep. Klemin are working to keep it that way, unfortunately.

        • Drain52

          Rob’s right. The information is NOT easy to get, it is NOT readily available. IF you can get it, it takes several phone calls and transfered calls to find the person who knows what s/he’s doing. And we’re to believe that’s less expensive than just making what’s already on their computers available on a centralized website?

          He’s also right–most of ND’s media really doesn’t care to dig too deeply into much of anything. You know. It might expose some of their golfing buddies.

    • http://sayanythingblog.com Rob

      Rep. Klemin:

      Thanks for taking the time to respond, but I think you’re making two points that are, frankly, not factual. Or not nearly as complicated as you make them sound.

      1) That it would be too expensive and complicated to report budgets to a central index.

      2) That nobody would be interested in the end product.

      To the first point, I’m sure you remember that the North Dakota Policy Council put together a very well organized database of city spending data at SunshineOnCities.org. They haven’t kept it up, but what they did build was a proof of concept. This data can be compiled and organized online in a way that’s extremely accessible for everyone from elected leaders to journalists to your average citizen.

      And compiling this data should be hard. We live in a digital era. If these political subdivisions aren’t even using not-so-cutting-edge things such as spreadsheets, perhaps it’s time they moved into the modern era.

      As to the second point, you say that this information can already be easily obtained. I write about government for a living. I request this sort of information all the time. It’s time consuming to get at times, and a lot of the reason is because the people I must request it from are busy. They try to help, but they don’t always have the time.

      So having a database of information available would not only mean faster access for me, it also means I won’t have to email or call busy people to request the data.

      Even a static page listing a “thousand links” as you refer to would be more efficient than what we have now. We could search that page. We could find the counties and townships we want. If it’s all in one place, the accessibility would be easier.

      I hate to say it, Rep. Klemin, but your argument against this legislation is a hard one to take seriously. You’re standing in the way of moving government transparency into a modern era of North Dakota. You’re on the wrong side of this issue, and I hope in the future you don’t take the public’s right to know as lightly as you’re taking it now.

    • Guest Observer

      Transparency is not your high point is it!

    • Angry taxpayer

      Several thousand entities that take tax payer money and you should be all for the simplest way for those taxpayers to get the information that they have a right to know. You are a Representative of the people, act like it

    • camsaure

      You have just proven Klemin, what a shameless RINO you really are. Why do we NOT have the right to know how YOU are spending OUR money? What are you really afraid of? Cronyism? Corruption? You guys already have a P poor record of wasting our money already. I guess that is really what you are trying to do: hide your shame, that is if you really do have any sort of conscience. Shame on you, You need to go.

  • cylde

    Obscurantism is the current policy. What you do not know might do you a lot of harm but you won’t feel a thing until much later.

  • Opinion8ed

    Let the taxpayers eat cake

  • Lynn Bergman

    This will be one of the votes I rate in the legislative report card I’ll put in every newspaper in the state prior to the next election.