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OUR OPINION: East Grand Forks should share what it has learned about loan

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opinion Grand Forks,North Dakota 58203 http://www.grandforksherald.com/sites/default/files/styles/square_300/public/field/image/ouropinionlogo_30.jpg?itok=5fGRvYcI
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OUR OPINION: East Grand Forks should share what it has learned about loan
Grand Forks North Dakota 375 2nd Ave. N. 58203

There’s good news and bad news as East Grand Forks approaches the one-month anniversary of learning about a $510,000 loan of taxpayer dollars that never got paid back.

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The good news is that the city is pursuing various means of getting to the bottom of the situation.

The bad news is that the public still has no idea whatsoever of how the money went missing.

That “bad news” development should be changed, because it’s just about bad enough to outweigh the good.

East Grand Forks officials should be a lot more forthcoming than they have been about what they’ve learned.

For one thing, personnel developments already are taking place in response to the scandal; and the fact that the public still doesn’t know how the loan repayments went awry robs residents of any ability to pass judgment.

Here’s an example. Jim Richter, the executive director of East Grand Forks’ Economic Development and Housing Authority who had signed the loan, retired Tuesday.

“East Grand Forks City Council members acknowledged Richter’s retirement during Tuesday night’s regular meeting,” a Herald story reported.

Are Richter’s action and the council’s acknowledgement good things? Or — in the interest of figuring out exactly what happened to the money — should East Grand Forks’ mayor and council have tried harder to keep Richter on the job, given that he ran the lending authority, signed the loan and likely was the person responsible for making sure payments were coming in on time?

There are no clear answers to those questions, because the public remains in the dark about the circumstances of the missing money.

So, there’s no way to tell whether Richter is getting either more or less than he deserves.

For another thing, East Grand Forks officials are not helping to heal their damaged credibility by keeping so much information secret. In the wake of a scandal, the best way to regain the public’s trust is through full disclosure. Officials should go out of their way tell what they know, because doing so reassures the public that cronies aren’t being protected and unflattering information isn’t being swept under the rug.

Instead, the investigation seems to be proceeding almost entirely as a personnel matter, which means everything can be (and is being) kept behind closed doors.

That blocks too much sunlight.

And the dark shadows that result deepen people’s frustrations and raise suspicions that “the fix is in.”

Some part of what officials have learned may have to be kept confidential; but not all of it. East Grand Forks officials should recognize that in a situation such as this one, in which city officials themselves seem to have been less than careful with public money, the public has a special and unusually urgent right to know.

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Tom Dennis
(701) 780-1276
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