The state commerce commissioner has hired a personal attorney to defend her following an audit against her department.
The State Auditor says they broke the law during the re-branding of the "Be Legendary" logo.
State Auditor Josh Gallion says the contracts used to make this logo were illegal. Now, Department of Commerce employees are being subject to an investigation by the Attorney General.
Commerce spent more than $87,000 on uncompetitive contracts for the re-branding, according to the audit.
Commerce said they did nothing wrong. Re-Branding was in two stages. In one stage, the extra workers were paid through a firm. In the second phase, they were paid as part-time employees. Thus, 2 separate contracts. Gallion says it should be treated as one.
"This mistake of law leads to the erroneous conclusion that we circumvented procurement requirements and should've properly bid the work as one contract for services. They were 2 separate work streams and we believe that we followed the procurement guidelines," said Michelle Kommer, ND Department of Commerce Commissioner.
Another element of the audit found that Commerce charged more than $800,000 to the wrong biennium. Commerce said this was done through a grant extension, and believed this would accommodate regulations.
"It was an honest mistake honestly made. The department has since been made aware of the legislature's authority to provide special exemption," Kommer said.
Gallion's office reported their findings to the Attorney General before the meeting.
During that meeting, the committee raised concerns over the Auditor skipping the committee and going straight to the A-G.
"When you're accusing somebody of a criminal act, that's a very high bar and it's very very serious. And now we have a department head who's gotta lawyer up. That's my two cents, but I'm very concerned about this going down the road at a whim, because we're dealing with people's lives and reputations," Rep. Mike Nathe (R-Bismarck) said.
Gallion pointed to a statute that says he was obligated to inform the A-G regardless.
Under the same statute, Gallion also referred accusations against the State Library to A-G Wayne Stenehjem, saying they broke the law misusing funds.
The library said they acknowledged their mistake and said there were no intent to break the law.