Pierre Capital Journal Says Werdel Statements Show “Carelessness” by Education Dept.

I’ve expressed some reservations about former Indian Education director LuAnn Werdel’s statements about the Department of Education’s failure to take action on the warnings she gave of corruption in the Mid-Central Educational Cooperative’s handling of GEAR UP and other federal grant monies.

However, as more evidence from Werdel becomes public, her story is holding together. The Pierre Capital Journal is taking Werdel’s statements seriously:

It is not all that uncommon for a fired employee to lash out and make wild accusations about how their former employer does things. The problem in this case is that [Werdel] was accusing people of mismanaging public money. That’s never something that should be taken lightly, even if it’s coming from a disgruntled, former employee. Sometimes, the accusations actually have merit.

Werdel’s emails certainly are not a smoking gun. They do not prove that there was corruption at the highest levels of government.. At worst, these emails show a certain amount of carelessness at the DOE when it came to federal dollars and data collection. That’s a pretty big problem in and of itself [editorial, Pierre Capital Journal, 2017.08.30].

Carelessness with public dollars is usually cause for dismissal from public service. Yet the only head that has rolled in Pierre under Governor Dennis Daugaard is the head of the woman who sounded the alarm back in 2011 and perhaps sooner.

6 Responses to Pierre Capital Journal Says Werdel Statements Show “Carelessness” by Education Dept.

  1. Donald Pay

    “Carelessness” is a polite, Republican way of saying “corruption.”

  2. Yeah, you don’t get dismissed in Pierre unless you are boinking your co-workers wives (you have to actually get caught, several times), and even than, they won’t tell you the real reason. GEAR UP is just the tiny little mosquito bite compared to all the other scandals and corruption going on in Pierre. The only real solution is to remove the disease called the SD GOP from the picture of power. Until that happens, this continue for another 40 years.

  3. Donald Pay

    My experience was that the people doing the actual frontline work in state agencies are straightforward, honest folks. They want to do a good job and they generally have or acquire the expertise to do a good job. Sometimes their hands are tied. That can come from a number of directions, but in my experience the rot starts at the top.

    It seems to get worse when you have these nebulously organized public-private entities or state organized faux cooperatives that are run by political cronies. These seem to be highly favored by politicians. Often they aren’t under state records requirements that allow citizens and the press to dig out what is happening. The more corrupt the the politician is the more they propose these types of arrangements. It used to be that way in water development districts until that process was reformed in the Mickelson administration. I assume those reforms are still in place. Even with those reforms, citizens need to police the process. I hope that is happening.

    I would suggest there is a structural solution to much of the rot. It requires much more state oversight and more accountability and far less use of non-state employee consultants, private-public partnerships and the like.

  4. When people start mysteriously ‘resigning’ that is a sign your department is messed up bad.

    SD DOE had a very poorly mismanaged department which lead to blatant corruption and South Dakotans should be embarrassed upset and disgusted but yet the SD GOP wants to still spin this as a Democrat witch hunt! Unbelievable, no words can express the anger I feel.
    Donald Pay is absolutely correct in his observations of how SD govt works. Any good governor that wants to be known as one of decency and respect for the people he works for would have cleaned house in the DOE and demanded answers and fought for audit reform. South Dakotans should be mad and demand answers, but they’re too dumb, dumb, dumb.

  5. Peter Carrels

    In my humble opinion, these sorts of problems have a foundation in a mindset that dislikes government and elevates personal ambition to a summit overlooking the community. I wish Republicans would at least acknowledge the value of government, rather than always demeaning it, ridiculing it. When the political party that hangs its hat on minimizing the role of government controls government how we can expect the effectiveness of government to be a priority? I truly appreciate the importance of private sector initiative and business, but in my estimation the government -on its many levels- represents the “community” in scale, and serves to protect the “community” from myopic greed or negative public impacts (like the release of toxic pollution, for example) due to the private sector. Thanks, Cory, for your excellent reporting and analysis on the Gear-Up and related issues.

  6. Donald identifies one key problem with privatization of government functions: passing state duties out of Pierre to private actors reduces oversight and accountability. As we saw in EB-5 and GEAR UP, public officials start writing their own tickets, doing their pals favors, and engaging in improper activities that public employees in a state office with solid oversight and transparency would not dare.

    Pete ties in another closely related factor: officials who portray government as a problem and seek to minimize the role of government will reduce the staff and resources available to carry out state functions. That creates the pressure to privatize and reduces the ability and desire of what’s left of government to monitor the private contractors and consultants it hires.

    Government can certainly get too big. It makes sense to devolve some functions in an overreaching government back to the private sector (a nice extreme example: agricultural production in the Soviet Union). But there’s a sweet spot between Soviet government doing too much and Grover Norquist government doing too little. Both extremes leave corrupt actors (who will always be with us) unchecked. Government can seek partners in the private sector to carry out some public functions. Government can leave some functions entirely to the private sector. But there are some functions (like administering federal grants for American Indian education and issuing visas to foreign investors) that, if we’re going to do them, that require the government to very actively mind its business.