In his 322-page document submitted September 28, attorney Paul Bachand does get around to responding to the thirteen questions the Government Operations and Audit Committee sent to his client, Education Secretary Melody Schopp, to follow up on her previous testimony on the GEAR UP scandal.
The document dump includes seven contracts issued by the Department of Education to consultant Brinda Kuhn. The contracts span 2008 through 2011:
- January 1—December 31, 2008: $65,000, to evaluate GEAR UP.
- September 1, 2008–August 31, 2009: $25,000 for salary, $5,000 for travel, plus $25,000 in matching funds, to “provide a formative and summative evaluation.”
- January 1–December 31, 2009: $54,000 for salaries, $11,000 for travel, plus $54,000 in matching funds, to evaluate GEAR UP.
- February 1, 2009–September 30, 2010: $6,500 plus $1,500 for expenses, to write an application for the Indian Land Tenure Grant.
- September 1, 2009–August 31, 2010: $25,000 for salary, $5,000 for travel, plus $25,000 in matching funds, to provide formative and summative evaluation for the College Access Challenge grant.
- January 1–December 31, 2010, with option for two 12-month renewals: $65,000 to evaluate GEAR UP.
- January 1–September 30, 2011: $65,000 to evaluate GEAR UP. In administrative inertia, the contract signed by Kuhn on January 14, 2011, and by DOE on January 23, 2011, still listed LuAnn Werdel as the state’s contact person for the contract, even thought then-new Education Secretary Schopp had canned Werdel on January 10, 2011.
Kuhn probably didn’t pocket all of that listed $374,500 in salaries and matching dollars over those three years. In her October 16, 2009, proposal to secure the GEAR UP evaluation gig again, Kuhn listed three staff members—Angela Sam, Christopher Peters, and Melita York. But Kuhn’s consulting office enjoyed multiple revenue streams during that period, including evaluation gigs for Oglala Lakota College and Fairmont State University.
Bachand’s response gives a few other GEAR UP dollar figures. Noting information already published in the Mid-Central Educational Cooperative financial reports and Eide Bailly’s Forensic Accounting Report, Bachand says three men—former GEAR UP project director Keith Moore, former Education Secretary Rick Melmer, and (former Rosebud Tribal Chairman?) Rodney Bordeaux—collected a total of $79,000 for serving on the “GEAR UP Advisory Board,” which, according to Keith Moore, served to help Mid-Central manage GEAR UP and use political connections to boost grant activities.
Bachand dodges two GOAC questions that seek more information about who might have known what when in the GEAR UP scandal. Asked to say who besides Office of Indian Education directors LuAnn Werdel and Roger Campbell may have “expressed concerns of improprieties or wrong doings of the grants handled by Mid Central or any other related organizations,” Bachand vaguely refers to “staff” questioning payment requests, then says, “Nothing further will be added to the answer previously given.”
Asked again for “memos and emails” documenting “conflicts of interest and related parties” that supported DOE’s decision to cancel Mid-Central’s GEAR UP contract in September 2015, Bachand shuts the door:
Communications with the Governor or his staff are privileged. Emails and memos are privileged. Documents prepared in anticipation of litigation or in response to litigation are privileged. Communications with legal counsel are privileged [Bachand to GOAC, 2017.09.28, p. 3].
Communications with the Governor? Should we consider it significant that the Governor’s office was in the loop on the rather long decision-making process that led to cancelling Mid-Central’s contract? Did Secretary Schopp really need higher executive approval or guidance to cancel a contract that she had known for more than three years was being mismanaged?
The Government Operations and Audit Committee will meet Thursday and possibly Friday in Sioux Falls at Carnegie Town Hall to discuss these answers and more about the GEAR UP/Mid-Central Scandal. With no requested witnesses agreeing to come testify in person, committee members will mostly talk amongst themselves about how satisfactory they find these written answers.