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Published March 11, 2013, 02:28 PM

North Dakota Higher Ed attorney says he clashed with chancellor

FARGO, N.D. (AP) — The former top lawyer for the North Dakota University System said he was forced out after clashes with Chancellor Hamid Shirvani over alleged open meetings violations.

FARGO, N.D. (AP) — The former top lawyer for the North Dakota University System said he was forced out after clashes with Chancellor Hamid Shirvani over alleged open meetings violations.

Pat Seaworth said in a memo sent to state Sen. Tony Grindberg, R-Fargo, that Shirvani repeatedly instructed Board of Higher Education staff to circumvent open meetings laws. That memo was presented to the Board of Higher Education last week. Seaworth said he resigned under pressure last November after more than 20 years as a lawyer for the university system, The Forum newspaper reported.

Seaworth wrote that his efforts "to prevent open meetings violations and attempts to prevent or at least slow down (the Board of Higher Education) action delegating too much authority to and concentrating too much power in the hands of an egomaniacal chancellor precipitated the decision to force me out."

Board spokeswoman Linda Donlin said Monday in an email to The Associated Press that "The Chancellor and the Board have always strived to operate in full compliance with the law and will continue to do so."

Shirvani has come under fire for what some state lawmakers have described as an overly aggressive leadership style. The state Senate has approved a measure that would provide money to buy out the remaining two years of his three-year contract, and the House is now considering it. Groups, including the North Dakota Student Association, have passed votes of no confidence in Shirvani.

Shirvani has said he was given a mandate by the board to overhaul the state's higher education system and fix problems, including low graduation and student retention rates.

The Board of Higher Education has scheduled a special Thursday meeting to discuss allegations about illegal meetings brought by the board's student representative, Sydney Hull. The board's new attorney is looking into the claims.

Grindberg, who pushed the buyout measure in the Senate, said the investigation should be handled by the attorney general's office instead.

"You can't have people that report to the chancellor doing an investigation," he said.

If open meeting violations are substantiated, Shirvani should be fired, Grindberg said.

The Forum has asked Attorney General Wayne Stenehjem for an advisory opinion on whether the board held illegal dinner meetings.

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