Attorney General Wayne Stenehjem has just issued an opinion ruling that a dinner held by Chancellor Hamid Shirvani and members of the State Board of Higher Education did, in fact, break open meetings laws.
The State Board of Higher Education has been ordered to recreate minutes for the meeting.
I think the AG is absolutely right in this assessment, but I’m a little surprised that he ruled this way given a previous opinion the AG’s office issued on a complaint I filed.
Just over a year ago the AG ruled that it was ok for the the North Dakota State University Technology and Research Park to hold an open meeting in Minneapolis.
So the AG cracks down on the State Board of Higher Education for failing to appropriately notice and disclose a meeting held at a dinner between the SBHE and the chancellor – fair enough – but somehow a meeting supposedly open to the public held hundreds of miles outside of the state is legal?
Update: SBHE President Duiane Espegard released this statement:
We viewed the January 16th dinner as part of the “regular” SBHE meeting that occurred January 16-17 in Bismarck. However, the Attorney General’s Office has determined that the January 16 dinner meeting was a separate “special” meeting. Special meetings have heightened requirements for the specificity of their notices and agendas.
The AG opinion said the notice and minutes didn’t have the level of detail needed for the topics addressed. This is because of the classification of the meeting as a “special” meeting by the AG. We will, of course, comply with the AG’s request to provide more detailed minutes from that meeting.
As our office worked with the AG’s office to address the Forum’s request, we noted that certain individuals were listed as having attended the meeting even though they were not present. Even though all Board members were invited, one member was unable to attend that night. No staff members were in attendance, and listing them was a clerical error. This was an unintentional oversight by the staff member responsible for drafting meeting minutes, who simply picked up a previous list and added it to the January minutes.
Finally, the AG’s office noted that we should have posted the notice at the Chancellor’s home and the NDUS main office on the day of the meeting. The state’s open meetings laws are complex, but the State Board of Higher Education is committed to following them at all times. Now that we know how the AG views these meetings, we will change our process for the future.
Our process for the January meeting can be found below:
Substantial notice of the January 16th meeting was provided to the public and media, as follows.
· The notice and agenda were filed with the Secretary of State’s Office on January 10th.
· The notice and agenda were emailed to a very large listserv, including many members of the public and press, on January 10th.
· The notice and agenda were posted on the SBHE website on January 10th.
The notice for the January 16 meeting included:
· Anticipated topics (“education-related legislative testimony” and “other North Dakota higher education issues”)
The minutes for the January 16 meeting included:
· Time the dinner began
· Time the dinner ended
· Description of the topics discussed
· List of attendees