Hold officials accountable

Hold officials accountable

My 9th Promise to South Dakota: I’ll introduce legislation to hold state officials personally accountable for graft that they knowingly allow on their watch.
We understandably complain about the federal government wasting taxpayer dollars, but it doesn’t just happen at the federal level; it happens at the state level too.
That’s why one of my first acts as our next Congressman will be to introduce legislation to state officials personally accountable for graft they knowingly allow under their watch.
That’s the only way to stop it. We have a tragic example of such waste here in South Dakota.
I have lived my entire life in South Dakota. One of the foremost qualities of our people is integrity—an unwavering adherence to moral and ethical principles. Our citizens say what they mean, and they walk the talk. We expect no less from our public officials.
At first as a South Dakota Circuit Court judge for 12 years and now as a candidate for Congress, I have traveled to about 180 cities and towns, listening to my fellow citizens. One of their deepest concerns — even anger — arises over the Gear Up tragedy and scandal.
One of the major purposes of GEAR UP and related federal education grants such as College Access and Teacher Quality in South Dakota is to prepare Native American students to succeed in college. The chronic academic achievement gap and the high school graduation rate gap between Native children and white children in our state are intolerable. We will only become one community in reality by closing these academic gaps and not squandering our precious God-given human resources.
The state of South Dakota has spent tens of millions of state and federal tax dollars on these programs. Yet, no one anywhere has ever come forward with a credible, honest figure for the number of Native kids who have gone to college because of our expenditure of all this money. So where did the money go?
For many years, state officials looked the other way as their friends — outside program managers and a small army of advisors and consultants — misappropriated, embezzled, squandered, wasted, and sometimes just plain lost millions. Large amounts of tax dollars never reached the kids or their teachers.
One consultant, who pocketed over $2 million, was paid for managing a grant and for being the evaluator of that same grant. Another consultant was paid for managing one grant and being the “independent” evaluator of a similar grant from the same entity. Two advisors “worked” for months without filling out time sheets. One manager put 10 of his relatives on the payroll for hundreds of thousands of dollars.
Year after year, the corruption was hiding in plain sight. From 2011 well into 2015, the beginning months’ balances for the GEAR UP account were tens of thousands of dollars lower than the previous months’ ending balances. Those balances were posted on the Internet for anyone to see.
In September 2015, when the state Education Department finally canceled its management contract with an educational cooperative, the department complained about “conflicts of interest.” Those conflicts had been in annually filed documents on the public web site of the Secretary of State since 2011.
In January 2011, South Dakota Director of Indian Education LuAnn Werdel reported serious management problems with GEAR UP to the state education secretary. The education secretary responded by firing the whistleblower.
Werdel’s replacement, Roger Campbell, provided the secretary with hard evidence of horrible problems within Gear Up. Campbell, a good man, finally became frustrated at the lack of effective and courageous problem solving and left.
Any cabinet secretary confronted with damning evidence of immoral and illegal activities certainly does not sit on it. She takes that information to the chief of staff. So who was our chief of staff for South Dakota during those years – 2011, 2012, 2013, and 2014? It was Dusty Johnson.
During his primary election, Dusty Johnson actually criticized the federal government for poor supervision over Gear Up. It’s true that federal auditors didn’t bother to show up until after six people — including four innocent children — were dead and millions of dollars had been stolen from deserving kids. But when our state started
taking Gear Up money, it promised the federal government that South Dakota would use that money properly. That was a duty the State of South Dakota owed the federal government.
Because Dusty, touting his “South Dakota values,” now seeks to become our lone member in the 435-member US House of Representatives, he should tell us what he knew about GEAR UP and when he knew it during his time as the governor’s chief of staff. It’s not about our state’s politics. It’s about our state’s integrity.
That’s why I’ll introduce legislation to keep such graft from being ignored by state officials handling federal dollars. It’s time to call an end to corruption both at the state and federal level, and my proposed legislation will do just that.