ND’s Transparency Laws Need To Be Updated For Modern Financial Transactions

transparency

North Dakota state law requires some cities to publish lists of checks they’ve written if the voters request it. But the local government’s have found a loophole. The law references checks, specifically, and not things such as electronic transactions. Thus, if a city makes an online payment, there is no check.

In the opinion of local governing entities, if there is no check no disclosure need be made. That’s something Attorney General Wayne Stenehjem has just upheld too:

Attorney General Wayne Stenehjem says there’s a glitch in the law. Cities have to publish lists of checks. But they don’t have to publish electronic transfers of money to pay bills, because they’re not checks.

The subject came up because Crosby Sen. John Andrist asked for a legal opinion about the expense information that local governments have to publish.

Andrist thought cities should have to list both hecks and electronic transfers. But Stenehjem says if there’s no paper check, the city doesn’t have to publish the expense.

Stenehjem’s right. The law is outdated, though it can be fixed by changing a few words in the law in the next session.

It does show just how resistant to transparency our government can be at times. Though the letter of this law doesn’t require the disclosure, there’s nothing stopping these local government’s from publishing the data at request anyway, thus adhering to the spirit of the law.

Rob Port is the editor of SayAnythingBlog.com. In 2011 he was a finalist for the Watch Dog of the Year from the Sam Adams Alliance and winner of the Americans For Prosperity Award for Online Excellence. In 2013 the Washington Post named SAB one of the nation's top state-based political blogs, and named Rob one of the state's best political reporters. He writes a weekly column for several North Dakota newspapers, and also serves as a policy fellow for the North Dakota Policy Council.

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