Other views: Ruling scores one for public interestA ruling by North Dakota Attorney General Wayne Stenehjem that the Ward County Commission violated state open meetings laws wasn’t surprising, but it does validate a feeling that the commission sometimes acts in haste, without enough consideration for following proper, lawful procedures.
By: Minot Daily News, The Jamestown Sun
A ruling by North Dakota Attorney General Wayne Stenehjem that the Ward County Commission violated state open meetings laws wasn’t surprising, but it does validate a feeling that the commission sometimes acts in haste, without enough consideration for following proper, lawful procedures.
Stenehjem ruled that the commission violated the law when a security committee created by the commission held three meetings without providing proper public notice and not allowing members of the public to attend the meetings.
Former commissioner Jim Lee requested the opinion after he was told the meetings were closed. In its defense, the commission said because the meetings dealt with security issues at the Ward County Courthouse, they weren’t open to the public. And because the commission didn’t think the meetings were open, no public notice was given.
It troubles us that the commission was so completely wrong in its assessment of the security meetings. Part of a commissioner’s job is to have some knowledge of open meeting laws. One wonders if there have been other meetings held without public notice or public input.
But it troubles us even more that the commission apparently received bad advice from the county auditor and the state’s attorney. Did both of them believe the meetings did not qualify as public meetings, even though the law is fairly clearly spelled out? Perhaps it was a simple misinterpretation of the law, but it’s certainly cause for concern, nonetheless. When it comes to following the law, if the auditor or state’s attorney aren’t sure, there’s always someone else to ask, such as the attorney general himself.
We take open meetings and open records law seriously, as does the general public. They are not laws to be ignored or cast aside recklessly. They are an important, vital part of government that allows citizens a chance to maintain a watchful eye on those they elect to public office.