Dickinson Public Schools’ Ballot Measure Wording Unnecessary and Could Sway Votes

As many Dickinson area early and absentee voters have already learned, we have a local measure on our June primary ballot. I first learned of the measure as I was filling out my ballot this evening. I hadn’t heard anything about it this election cycle, and I doubt many of you had either.

With a hotly contested City Commission and a mayoral race, the measure is a relatively minor news item that has been largely ignored. That’s because this measure isn’t something out of left field. It’s the regular ballot measure asking if Dickinson Public School minutes should be published in the local newspaper of record. Though it’s unnamed in the measure, that newspaper is The Dickinson Press, which I worked at for more than a decade and was editor of for three-and-a-half years.

North Dakota school boards are required to regularly ask the public if it wants to continue having board minutes published in the school district’s newspaper of record. It’s generally a formality and rarely, if ever, gets voted down. Thankfully North Dakota voters are a relatively informed bunch.

But it isn’t often that the question is asked in the way Dickinson Public Schools worded its measure on this year’s primary ballot. What stands out is the suspect verbiage of the measure, which is pointedly worded in a manner that could easily sway voters and frankly should never have been allowed on the ballot. The measure reads: 

“Dickinson Public Schools has been publishing the Board meeting minutes in the official newspaper at a significant cost to the taxpayers. Additionally, Dickinson Public Schools has been posting the meeting minutes on the District’s website and will continue to post them. As a taxpayer, do you wish Dickinson Public Schools to continue to publish the School Board meeting minutes in the official newspaper of the school district?”

I can’t express how significant and inappropriate the inclusion of the lines “at a significant cost to the taxpayers” and “As a taxpayer” are on a ballot measure. This is basically like asking “Do you approve a $110 million bond measure to build a new high school because the current school is overcrowded and needs millions of dollars in repairs?”

Wording measures like this is a slippery slope — especially when it affects public information. 

So many people in Dickinson have bemoaned The Dickinson Press’ move from a five-day-a-week newspaper to a weekly newspaper — a financial decision not made locally but entirely by executive management of The Press’ ownership group Forum Communications Co. 

Yet, here we are, with Dickinson Public Schools — the largest public entity in the community — using “taxpayer funds” as a way to try and get out of publishing its minutes in the local newspaper. Without some in-depth research, I can’t tell you how much money the school pays The Dickinson Press to publish these minutes. But my knowledge of how much legal notices cost leads me to believe it’s a drop in the bucket of the school district’s budget. 

The board, Superintendent Shon Hocker and anyone involved in putting together that measure should be ashamed of how it is worded and that they’re even proposing such a move.

More than anything, public meeting minutes are recorded in a newspaper as a way to serve as a historic document. If I wanted to go back to 1975 and see what happened at a Dickinson Public School board meeting, I can. I would just go to The Dickinson Press or the State Library in Bismarck and ask for the dates I want to research. There, I’ll find the school board minutes. Published in full. 

Do we have any assurance that, if only published on the school’s website, those minutes will remain there forever? Of course not. Like any other record or document, they’ll eventually get pushed to the side to make room for something else. They’re currently published from 2008 to today, but any further back than that and you’ll need to go looking for an old newspaper.

There are still many people who expect to see public meeting minutes published in their local newspaper, whether they’re community watchdogs, or the elderly and old-fashioned who simply don’t use the Internet. If nothing else, it’s a worthy gesture for any public entity to assure citizens they’re not trying to hide anything. 

The funny thing is, The Press has actually been publishing the Dickinson Public School board meeting minutes on its website along with the physical newspaper. So the school is already getting a two-for-one deal. We didn’t do this when I was there. We should have. This is a good change. 

I have hope that the vast majority will vote “Yes” and force Dickinson Public Schools to continue publishing its school board meeting minutes in The Dickinson Press. North Dakotans shouldn’t allow a single public entity to take any steps to halt the publishing of public information in community newspapers of record.

Dickinson State enters the esports game

Tucked away in the back corner of the Dickinson State University Student Center basement, adjacent the cafeteria, is a room like many others on campus.

Seven desks, each with large computers and monitors, complete with webcams, line the room’s interior walls. Next to each desk sits large, comfortable-looking upholstered leather chairs. To the unknowing eye, the room appears to be nothing more than an upscale computer lab.

However, in the fall, the small room painted in DSU blue, white and gray colors will be the core of what the university hopes becomes its next extracurricular activity, and potentially even its next varsity sport.

The lab is home to DSU’s fledgeling esports program.

Continue reading “Dickinson State enters the esports game”

Opportunity of a lifetime: DSU CB Jay Liggins hoping for shot at the NFL

Jay Liggins was 11 years old when he left Memphis, Tenn. He remembers it was a Thursday.

Just four days earlier, his mother had made an abrupt decision to move he and his 10 siblings across the country to escape inner-city violence and find a hometown more suitable for raising a large family.

Of all places, they ended up in Bismarck, N.D., a city one-tenth the size of Memphis in a state none of them had ever been to and knew little about.

“It was such a random decision,” Liggins said.

Yet it was one that became incredibly fateful to Liggins’ future, despite numerous challenges he would end up facing along the way.

Later this month, the former Dickinson State University standout cornerback will likely get an opportunity to be the first Blue Hawk signed by a National Football League team.

“It’s an opportunity of a lifetime,” Liggins said. “It’s something I wanted to do, and the fact that it’s in front of me, I had to grab it.”

Continue reading “Opportunity of a lifetime: DSU CB Jay Liggins hoping for shot at the NFL”

Column: Time to Take Western ND Drug Crime Seriously

Over the past two months, I’ve been listening to and reporting on stories involving the rise in drug use and crime in western North Dakota — mostly here in Dickinson.

In early July, I reported that the rise in drug activity has coincided with the drop in drug prices in our area. Methamphetamine that was selling for $3,000 during the height of the Bakken oil boom is now going for $800 on the street, one of our area’s lead drug investigators says.

Meth, heroin and cocaine. It’s all out there, too. Every day.

Adding to the mix is the incredibly dangerous and deadly fentanyl, a drug so bad it has caught the attention of U.S. Sen. John Hoeven, R-N.D., and other leaders in Washington who are proposing legislation that would make it illegal for the substance to enter the United States.

Along with that, I reported about how gang members — both street gangs and biker gangs — have made their presence felt in Dickinson and the surrounding areas, and are directly tied to the rise in drug crime. The Country Boy Crips, the Hells Angels, the Sons of Silence. They’re all here in some way, shape or form.

Most of us tend not to see any of this happening. This is the activity that lurks mostly in the shadows. Still, we need to be aware that it is indeed happening.

So much that we’ve even, often regrettably, stopped considering some of it news.

Cases in Southwest District Court involving meth, heroin and cocaine were once a big deal to our newspaper. When I first took over as editor more than three years ago and in years prior to that, when those type of cases came up, we reported on them. Now, they’re mostly relegated to our daily Police Blotter section and only the bigger drug crime cases are followed into court.

There’s simply too many drug crimes taking place in our area to justify complete coverage. Plus, most of the major drug arrests get bumped up to the federal level almost immediately, making them difficult to follow from arrest to conviction. Still others plead out for jail time.

Leaders of the Southwest Narcotics Task Force and the state Bureau of Criminal Investigation say drug crime here is worse than ever, and they’re constantly faced with new challenges on how to fight it.

Earlier this month, the leaders of our area’s task force introduced themselves to the Dickinson City Commission, who listened for 15 minutes to the stories of challenges faced by our law enforcement, and how the task force’s staff can only handle the worst of the worst problems coming through our area.

They’re on track to make fewer drug arrests this year because they’re focusing primarily on the big drug deals.

That means they’re less concerned about petty drug users, and are more concerned about catching dealers — many of whom have gang ties that often reach all the way to Mexico or Canada.

The task force is concerned that even when they are able to add more staff, the problems will keep stacking up. And it’s not just them. Our local police and sheriff’s departments, state attorney’s offices, and as far up as the U.S. District Attorney’s office are all slammed with problems related to drug crimes in some way, shape or form.

Next Tuesday, many of our city and legislative leaders and several behavioral and public health professionals who deal will attend a state-sponsored Opioid Symposiums being held Tuesday in Bismarck.

It’ll be a unique venue for them to network and to learn more about how to combat the rising drug use and crime.

Whether it’s marijuana, cocaine, meth, heroin or fentanyl, the point needs to be driven home that there’s a drug culture in western North Dakota that’s here to stay. It’s growing and it’s bringing a gang culture with it. It’s time we start looking at it seriously and do something about it.

Parts of Southwest N.D. on Cusp of Grain Harvest

Kelly Herberholz made the first cut of this year’s harvest a week ago.

Since then, he and his father, Joe, have slowly been chipping away at their crop throughout central and western Hettinger County. Kelly estimates they have at least 300 acres done and that much of their spring wheat is running between 35 and 45 bushels an acre.

“We need more than that though,” he said with a short laugh.

Southwest North Dakota farmers are on the verge of what appears to be an above-average small grains harvest in a year where prices are well below average.

“There’s some good-looking crop out there. Now if we could just get a price for it,” CHS Southwest Grain General Manager Delane Thom said Friday. “A 50-bushel spring wheat crop is barely a break-even number.”

On Friday, 14 protein spring wheat closed at $3.85 a bushel at the Southwest Grain terminal near Taylor. Milling quality durum was $5.90.

As farmers like Herberholz are quietly chipping away at their spring wheat crop in Hettinger County — where the wheat is furthest along — he and others say and are awaiting higher temperatures this weekend that could turn a crop nearly ready to cut into one that’s falling into the hoppers of combines throughout the area.

“If the sun would come out, I think we’d all go,” Herberholz said.

This weekend — with temperatures forecast in the high 80s and low 90s, with a chance of thunderstorms on Sunday evening — could go a long way toward getting farmers in the field.

Tom Snell, who runs Snell Harvesting of Ellinwood, Kan., has 18 combines in Regent ready to go whenever the wheat is. He said they took a couple of their John Deere harvesters out north of the small town on Friday to try areas for one client.

Snell said he has seen some good crops throughout the Great Plains this summer and while this year’s North Dakota crop isn’t going to be a “bin buster,” he believes it’ll be a good one. And he wants to help get it off the field and into those bins as soon as possible.

“When it’s getting this close we’re no different than a farmer,” Snell said. “As quick as you can, you want to get going.”

Thom said he recently drove through much of southwest North Dakota.

He said crops didn’t fare well along the Highway 12 corridor between Bowman and Lemmon, S.D.

“It’s extremely dry down in that country,” Thom said. “A lot of that crop was rolled up for hay because the hay crop was short. The further north you get of that line, the better it looks.”

He estimates that five major hail events during the summer took out anywhere between 30,000 to 50,000 acres of cropland throughout the area, all the way from Scranton to Glen Ullin and, of course, north to Killdeer, where a devastating storm ripped through the Dunn County city and surrounding countryside on July 10.

Thom said crops north of Interstate 94 are at least three weeks away from being ready to harvest.

“Where it hailed it out, it hailed it out,” he said.

Thom said that in recent weeks, many farmers have been selling year-old wheat at his elevator in what he says is effort to clear storage space.

“There has been a fair amount of old crop movement, of wheat specifically,” he said. “That’s kind of an indicator that there’s got to be a pretty normal crop out there.”

Farmers aren’t the only ones preparing for harvest, however.

Mick Lewton, store manager of West Plains Implement in Dickinson, said his business has done about all it can do to prepare for one of the busiest parts of its year. He said the Case IH ProHarvest support team is also mobilized at the shop.

“It takes a little while to prepare for, but we’re about as good as we’re going to get right now,” Lewton said.