North Dakota asks South Dakota to help with agency probe

BISMARCK, N.D. (AP) — North Dakota's top law enforcement officer has tabbed authorities in South Dakota to help investigate an agency that allegedly violated state law on contract bidding.

North Dakota Auditor Joshua Gallion released a report last month that said the Department of Commerce violated the law on bidding uncompetitive contracts totaling more than $87,000 for the state's new "Be Legendary" logo and associated "rebranding" effort for the state.

The move sparked criticism earlier this year when the contract for it was awarded to a Minnesota firm headed by a woman who once worked for Gov. Doug Burgum's old Fargo software business.

The company was awarded the $9,500 job without competition because it came in below the $10,000 threshold required for additional bids. But the audit found two temporary employment contracts that were used to "stay under the purchasing thresholds that required contractor competition."

The Commerce Department has maintained it did nothing wrong.

Commerce Director Michelle Kommer said in a statement Tuesday the agency "recognizes there is always room for improvement and has identified appropriate control enhancements." Commerce Commissioner Michelle Kommer said.

The agency is expected to present its "improvements" on Wednesday to the Legislature's Audit and Fiscal Review Committee.

Stenehjem asked that the investigator come from South Dakota's Bureau of Investigation. Stenehjem said in a statement he wants an "independent third-party investigator" who has "no personal knowledge of the agency or employees that are the subject of the audit."

Stenehjem said North Dakota law allows "ad hoc special agents" to be appointed from other jurisdictions for a "special law enforcement purpose."

Stenehjem, a Republican, lost the governor's race to Burgum in the party's primary in 2016. Gallion, the state auditor, also is a Republican.

Burgum spokesman Mike Nowatzki said the GOP governor did not recommend his former employee for the logo or rebranding.

But he did support "unified branding effort for state government," Nowatzki said.

North Dakota's Republican-led Senate killed a bill in March sponsored Democratic Rep. Marvin Nelson that would require the Commerce Department to scrub the logo and hold a contest. The bill had sailed through the House after lawmakers learned the logo was awarded to the Minnesota firm.