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North Dakota loves boards, councils and commissions

According to the Boston Globe, Massachusetts is beset with an excess number of unnecessary state boards and legislators are considering creating a sunset advisory board to abolish boards that have outlived their usefulness.

Harboring over 100 boards, commissions and committees, many North Dakotans may be led to think that a board to terminate boards may be appropriate. Don’t go there.

The last state organization chart was published 25 years ago and will not be redone for at least another 25 years. It was embarrassing.

When we saw it on paper, we realized that we had no respect for such principles as the “chain of command” or “span of control.” It was democracy writ large.

In the field of agriculture alone, we have a dozen boards, councils and commissions. To be specific, we have a barley council, beef commission, corn council, dairy promotion commission, animal health board, dry bean council, dry pea and lentils council, oil seed council, potato council, soybean council and a wheat commission.

In addition, we have a crop protection board, a value added ag promotion board, a cloud seeding board and an ag products utilization commission. Incidentally, we also have a department of agriculture for whatever functions are left.

When it comes to nomenclature, we are indiscriminate in the use of the terms council, board and commission. The terms are used interchangeably so there is no real difference between a board and a commission, or between a council and a board.

But before we go on a government reorganization crusade and proclaim that all of these entities should be merged into the department, we should understand a couple of things about our boards, councils and commissions.

First, the disorganization of state government reflects our political culture. We believe everyone ought to have a “say” and creating lots of boards and commissions provides that opportunity.

Second, the people who come up with an idea for a board have first claim on its implementation.

Third, those who pay the freight ought to have more “say” than the reorganizers.

Most of our agricultural boards, councils and commissions levy a “checkoff” tax on their producers to pay for activities and promote products.

The legislature is only too happy to create a board when the sponsors are not asking for a general fund appropriation. In addition, board members are practically volunteer, paid only for travel and sometimes a modest stipend.

The governor is happy with boards to appoint. With the professionalization of the bureaucracy, the governor has very few political appointments available since the courts no longer permit the firing of professional staff for political cronies.

So, if Massachusetts legislators come looking for help, they will not get it here. North Dakota loves boards, councils and commissions.

Back in the 1970s, this idea of terminating boards, councils and commissions ran rampant through the states. Numerous states added “sunset” clauses to appropriation bills calling for termination of entities unless they proved their worth.

After wasting a lot of time and effort, they found that almost all boards, councils and commissions had constituencies that protested abolition. So the movement accomplished very little.

Another major category of boards in North Dakota is the professional licensing group. With around 40 such boards on the books, we license every skill except barroom bouncers.

No doubt, as soon as they get organized, they will appear in Bismarck to allege that not everyone is qualified to be a bouncer. And if they can demonstrate that bouncer licensing fees will cover their costs, they will have a leg up on getting legislative approval.

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