Wednesday, Attorney General Drew Wrigley’s Deputy Attorney General Claire Ness gave a status update on the lease and construction of a South Bismarck building that over-ran its budget by nearly $2 million.
Government Administration Committee heard presentations on the mismanagement of the leasing and construction costs for a building leased by the Attorney Genera’s Office in South Bismarck.
Earlier in the year, the same line of questioning, revealed that former AG spokeswoman Liz Brocker deleted the state email accounts of former AG Stenehjem and Deputy AG Troy Seibel.
“The records of state officials are retained if they have any historical value, I would think 20 years as the longest serving Attorney General would have some historical value. The Archivist needs to be involved with that. The Archivist was not contacted, to the best of my knowledge.,” said Senator Tracy Potter. “So, there seems to be a violation of state law here. Are there any consequences for the violation,” asked, Potter.
“To my knowledge, there is not a statute that specifically mandates that. Certainly not a criminal one. And, so no crime, the decision was made after significant lengthy analysis that a crime had not been committed,” replied Deputy Attorney General Claire Ness.
Representative Rick Becker points out that the AG’s office has not put forward an official explanation to clarify for the legislature and the public exactly why no law was broken.
“By what interpretation of the law can we be assured that no law was broken, because simply to say ‘trust us we’re the experts, no law was broken’, simply is not good enough,” said Representative Rick Becker.
“We will be happy to talk with any of you who have questions about it. All I can tell you at this point in time is that analysis has been done by many individuals, many attorneys, prosecutors, open records attorneys. We stand by it. We feel comfortable with it,” answered Ness.
“I guess what I’m asking is where can I find that detailed analysis? Because I appreciate and respect that I can, I do believe, I could sit down with you or the Attorney General or someone in the office, but the people of North Dakota are owed an explanation, where can I find the detailed analysis,” asked Becker.
“I would offer our office anytime to come by and sit down and talk with us about it, I don’t have a formal written document to provide to you today,” replied Ness.
The South Bismarck building, 1720 Burlington Avenue, consolidates and houses multiple divisions of the AG’s office, including the Bureau of Criminal Investigation and Consumer Protection.
The overrun occurred in 2020 under the late AG Wayne Stenehjem, and it was not discovered until the current AG Drew Wrigley took office.
“The original lease was executed by my predecessor, Mr. Seibel,” explained Ness. “The day that Attorney General Wrigley learned of the overrun for the building in March, as you heard, he requested a meeting with the auditor for the next day,” Ness said.
The State Auditor is currently working to retrieve all emails sent to the property management company, contractor, and all parties involved with the South Bismarck building.
State Auditor Josh Gallion will report to The Legislative Audit & Fiscal Review Committee in September.
The Interim Administration Committee also has begun investigating the matter.