FARGO, North Dakota — The Forum, Fargo, April 27, 2013
Time for Shirvani to resign
Hamid Shirvani's brief tenure as North Dakota's chancellor of higher education has been remarkable for its seemingly endless blunders, arrogant management style and needless controversy, all of which have damaged the state's 11 campuses and their students. Shirvani was hired last July to unify the public colleges and universities into a more cohesive, centrally managed system. Almost from the start, however, he has sewed seeds of fear and mistrust, and has alienated important constituencies, including business leaders, legislators and students, whose representatives have passed multiple "no confidence" votes rebuking his leadership.
Shirvani's time in office has been unprecedented for the sheer scope and variety of missteps, authoritarian overreach and ruptured relationships. Underlying many of Shirvani's problems is a drive to go too far, too fast, matched by an inability to read the political landscape and communicate effectively with essential partners.
Let's review highlights from the blooper reel: Shirvani charged out of the chute with an audacious budget request to add 30 positions to his central staff. The magnitude of the request prompted a backlash from legislators known for their aversion to big government. He also proposed an ambitious plan to increase campus admission standards but failed to meaningfully involve - or even adequately inform - his presidents of the sweeping changes. The message soon became clear: It was Shirvani's way or the highway. Instead of listening and adapting, he became more rigid and determined.
Most disturbingly, he orchestrated state Board of Higher Education meetings with inadequate public notices and agendas, resulting in violations of public meeting laws for at least one meeting. When confronted about his actions by his top legal counsel, Shirvani and board President Duaine Espegard forced out the lawyer. Both showed contempt for the open and accountable government North Dakotans deserve and expect.
All the while, Shirvani has been aided and abetted by the board, which repeatedly has voiced support for his actions and allowed the chancellor to operate as a loose cannon. The board has utterly failed to provide oversight. As a result, voters will vote next year on a misguided measure to replace the eight-member board with a three-member commission.
We've said before, the oversight problems of the higher education system are not structural. Blame rests entirely with Shirvani and the board, most notably with its president, Espegard. In order to prevent permanent damage to the higher education system, we call for Shirvani and Espegard to resign. It is clear their positions have become untenable. For the good of higher education, critical to North Dakota's success, they must go.
The Bismarck Tribune, Bismarck, April 26, 2013
Forest Service claim process unacceptable
The U.S. Forest Service has offered an apology for the 14,000-acre Pautre Fire south of Hettinger on April 3, a prescribed burn by Forest Service workers that got away from them. But now the federal agency has told ranchers that it will take up to two years to pay on damage claims.
That's an unacceptable timeframe, especially when a federal agency was at fault and had conducted the burn over objections of local landowners.
Two years is too long to have a dozen or so ranchers carry the federal government. We're talking mostly the costs of feed and fences.
We are told there is no money in the Forest Service budget for the claims and they are a legal process in and of themselves, that claims have to be reviewed and can be amended.
The Forest Service apparently is looking for an intermediary government entity that could help the ranchers. The Forest Service then could reimburse that agency on an agency-to-agency basis. The ranchers are working with a claims "expert" to help them understand how to file. This will all take time.
At the other end of this bureaucratic whip, in Washington, Forest Service Director Charlie Richmond has assured U.S. Sen. John Hoeven that his agency would "expedite" the claims process for landowners. What does that mean? And have they gotten that word in the sooty hills along the Grand River?
In Washington, the Forest Service is talking about funding fencing through the Environmental Quality Incentives Program. It's run by the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Natural Resources Conservation Service. It's a step in the right direction, but not comprehensive enough. And it's not clear if it will be soon enough.
The situation got more difficult when Kevin Sedivec, a range science specialist from North Dakota State University, talked about the results of a five-year study of 17 prescribed fires that he has conducted. It blew away any assumptions that pasture benefits from burns.
He concluded that 30 percent of new grass growth was lost in the first year after a burn and 15 percent the second year. That comes right out of a rancher's bottom line.
It's tough enough running the risk of ranching with the markets and Mother Nature.
The prescribed burn was a mistake. So the Forest Service needs to make good on fixing it.
"Expedite" might mean two years in Washington, but not in North Dakota.
Minot Daily News, Minot, April 26, 2013
Federal government's priorities have us confused
Remember years ago when North Dakota lawmakers approved legislation allowing farmers in the state to grow industrial hemp, a distant cousin of marijuana that contains only tiny traces of THC, the psychoactive element of the plant? Remember the federal government's reaction?
Years later, no hemp has been grown legally in North Dakota because the Drug Enforcement Agency refuses to approve any permits submitted by North Dakotans. The state's law, the feds argue, conflicts with the federal law, and therefore, the growing of industrial hemp, which is grown for its seeds, oil and fiber, cannot be allowed in North Dakota.
Now consider comments last week from Attorney General Eric Holder when discussing laws passed last year by Washington state and Colorado making it legal to sell and use certain amounts of marijuana in those states. Holder said the Justice Department is still deciding how to respond to those laws, and the response could include suing to block sales of marijuana in those states because the conflict with federal law. In addition, President Barack Obama has said that going after marijuana users in those states is not a priority, although he hasn't said he supports pot legalization, either.
Needless to say, we're confused about the federal government's priorities, or lack thereof. Smoking pot in Colorado and Washington is OK even though it conflicts with federal law, but growing harmless industrial hemp in North Dakota is forbidden because it conflicts with federal law. And actively preventing farmers from growing hemp is more of a priority than preventing folks from smoking pot in two states?
Well, we're glad Holder cleared that up for us.