Coincidence or Business as Usual?

How North Dakota is artistically presented has been a point of contention over recent years. Remember the uproar when the new design for the license plates was revealed? The latest dispute over design comes because of the new North Dakota logo. What at first seemed like a battle over artistic differences may have spilled into a something a little more about how business is being done in Bismarck.

Patrick Springer from Forum Communications wrote a great article detailing the situation of how North Dakota received a new logo. Not only was the latest logo design completed without a competitive bid from the state to area graphic designers, but the out-of-state artist selected has extensive connections with people in the Burgum administration – including Doug Burgum himself – from their time at Great Plains Software and Microsoft. The connection and process used by Burgum’s administration raise questions

Over the course of the Burgum administration, North Dakota residents have pointed out how people from Microsoft, formerly Great Plains Software, continue to get state government jobs. For example, listeners of my radio show on KFGO have commented that Burgum is simply replacing the “Good ol’ boy network” he campaigned against with his own. The thing is, new administrations constantly hire people they trust and are familiar with meaning Burgum’s hiring practices aren’t entirely unusual. As long as they’re qualified for the job they’re hired to do, as I’m sure many are, there isn’t much of a reason to be critical.

Yet, a no-bid contract for work handed out by the administration is different. Unlike the employees Burgum has pulled in from Microsoft, contracted work isn’t entirely accountable to the public who is writing the check. The particular instance regarding the logo is either coincidental or carefully crafted in a purposeful way. Was it a coincidence the administration selected $9,500 as the contract amount or was it purposefully selected to not meet the bidding requirements of the state at $10,000? Who “approached” the artist from the administration? Were they in a rush to get a new logo and wanted to avoid the drawn out bidding process? If so, why?

Right now, people might be thinking the amount of $9,500 isn’t something to get hung up about. Perhaps. Perhaps legislation isn’t necessary to force the logo to a bidding process after-the-fact. That’s up to the Legislature to decide. Yet, if this contract was done in a purposeful way to narrow who receives the money and work because of personal connections, then it warrants scrutiny. Previous administrations have been accused by private citizens and businesses looking to bid for state contracts of having crafted the contract bids in such a way that only one politically-aligned organization qualifies and receives the contract. Narrowing access to state contracts to personal friends and allies is part of the “good ol’ boy network” Burgum forcefully campaigned against and won. It begs the question, is this lack of a logo bid business as usual on a smaller scale?

Tyler Axness
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