The Government Operations and Audit Committee has asked numerous principals in the GEAR UP scandal to come answer questions at its October 5–6 meeting. A few are providing written answers, but those responses indicate none will show their faces before the committee Thursday or Friday in Sioux Falls.
GOAC asked former Mid-Central Educational Cooperative chairs Pam Haukaas and Lloyd Persson to come explain their board’s oversight of the GEAR UP grants, including answering simple questions like, “Who appointed the GEAR UP Advisory Board?” and whether Mid-Central’s director, business manager, or auditor ever presented annual audit reports to the board. On September 22, Sioux City attorney Ryland Deinert replied for Persson and Haukaas and said that, due to pending litigation, no one from Mid-Central’s board will answer any GOAC questions, in writing or in person.
GOAC asked Rick Melmer, the former Education Secretary who steered GEAR UP to his hometown coop and made good money consulting for Mid-Central, to come explain his role in the GEAR UP grants and provide a timeline of his work for Mid-Central. Melmer wrote back on September 24 that he won’t visit GOAC in person, but he did provide written answers. Melmer said the state applied for the first GEAR UP grant in 2005 to bolster the summer honors program at School of Mines for American Indian high school students. Melmer says he was not involved in applying for second GEAR UP grant in 2011, but Mid-Central director Dan Guericke brought him aboard in 2012. Melmer details the contract work that I reported back in 2015:
Dan Guericke, director of Mid-Central Educational Cooperative (MCEC), asked me to be involved during the 2012–13 year to provide technical assistance on issues related to GEAR UP and the other programs (i.e. College Access Challenge Grant) that focused on the academic needs of Native American students. This assistance included regular correspondence with the director on questions or issues that may arise related to the grant and the discussion and formation of an Advisory Board that would assist in the coordination of programs designed to improve educational opportunities for Native students. In 2013–14 I began a two-year employment with MCEC and worked on three contracts. The largest contract was with the Council of Chief State School Officers (CCSSO) which involved work on the Cross-State Learning Collaborative Project. A second contract was with the Board of Regents in South Dakota (SDBOR). That contract involved working with the statewide teacher residency program and a leadership development program designed for K-12 building principals. The third contract was with GEAR UP where I chaired an Advisory Board that met monthly. The primary objective of the Board was to coordinate programs that were designed to assist Native American Students. The programs included the College Access Challenge Grant, Jump Start, TRIO and the Bridge programs. I coordinated the planning, materials and presenters for each meeting and communicated with the Task Force members about agenda items. The GEAR UP contract generated less than 15% of my total income with MCEC [Rick Melmer to GOAC, 2017.09.24].
GOAC directed the same requests to Rick Melmer’s pal and fellow Mid-Central consultant Keith Moore. On September 25, Moore declined to attend GOAC’s meeting but writes that he was appointed GEAR UP project director in fall/winter 2005, then consulted for Mid-Central from August 2012 to September 2015 and performed these duties:
- Attend and chair all meetings of the grant advisory council.
- Attend conferences as requested.
- Assist with the hiring of key project personnel.
- Assist the Project Directors with evaluating grant proposals and grant activities.
- Utilize professional and political contacts to benefit the grant.
- Draw on past positions and experiences to assist with the successful implementation of the grant.
- Assist the Project Director in all day to day grant activities as assigned [Keith Moore to GOAC, 2017.09.25].
GOAC asked former Office of Indian Education director LuAnn Werdel, whose emails and statements caused a stir at the August GOAC hearing, to come expand on what she’s revealed so far. On September 28, Werdel replied that she can’t attend because she’s caring for her stroke-stricken husband. Werdel mentions work she did for Oceti Sakowin Educational Consortium (one of the non-profits corporate shells created by Mid-Central business manager Scott Westerhuis that handled, or maybe laundered, GEAR UP money) implementing a middle-school component of GEAR UP that gave $10,000 to 32 middle schools each to conduct career/college prep programs. Missing her opportunity to offer her firsthand knowledge, Werdel defers questions about conflicts of interest to what Representative Elizabeth May says she has heard.
GOAC sent similar questions to Roger Campbell, who succeeded Werdel at the Department of Education and who made headlines with his own batch of 2012 e-mails released by the DOE for GOAC’s August hearing. If Campbell has replied, GOAC hasn’t posted that document yet.
GOAC also asked Education Secretary Melody Schopp to appear again. On September 28, her attorney, Paul Bachand, wrote that Secretary Schopp and the Department of Education are done appearing before GOAC on this matter… but he provides one more document dump that warrants attention in a separate post.
So in seven requests for testimony, GOAC so far has published six refusals to testify in person, four written responses, and two refusals to provide any information. That response rate calls into question the authority our Legislature has to get the information it wants and needs about corruption in state government.