INFORUM.com | WDAZ.com

WDAY: The News Leader

Published June 14, 2013, 08:53 AM

Legality of North Dakota higher ed meetings questioned

BISMARCK, N.D. (AP) — North Dakota's top media lawyer and two newspapers are questioning whether the state Board of Higher Education broke open meeting laws again during sessions this week involving board members and university presidents.

BISMARCK, N.D. (AP) — North Dakota's top media lawyer and two newspapers are questioning whether the state Board of Higher Education broke open meeting laws again during sessions this week involving board members and university presidents.

Three board members met individually with the state's college and university presidents in Bismarck. University System officials said no public notice was required because a quorum of the board was not present.

"We were just listening to the presidents," board President Duaine Espegard told The Forum newspaper. "It's not an official meeting. Nobody authorized it; nobody set up a committee or anything like that."

North Dakota Newspaper Association attorney Jack McDonald said that even though there wasn't a quorum, the members in attendance appeared to be authorized to act on behalf of the board. That means they were working as a committee and needed to make the meetings public, he said.

McDonald said it also is illegal for less than a quorum of board members of a public entity to meet with the specific purpose of avoiding open meeting laws.

"They deliberately chose to have three (members) meet, which makes it a public meeting," he said.

University System spokeswoman Linda Donlin told The Bismarck Tribune that the purpose of the meetings was "to discuss the road ahead for the North Dakota University System."

The board is buying out the contract of embattled Chancellor Hamid Shirvani after months of turmoil that included findings by Attorney General Wayne Stenehjem that the board has violated open meeting laws in the past. The Tribune and The Forum are seeking an opinion from him on the legality of the latest meetings.

"Obviously, the road ahead has been discussed and determined by the board, and now it is being relayed to the college presidents," McDonald said. "However, apparently the public is not yet to know what the 'road ahead' is."

Espegard said there was no agenda for the meetings in Bismarck, and that information from them will be reported to the full board at its meeting Thursday in Bottineau.

"It was a very casual conversation," he told the Tribune. "With all that's happened, we're really not trying to have secret meetings."

Tags: