SCDRC board meets in closed session
The South Central Dakota Regional Council Executive Board may have violated the state Open Meetings Act during a special meeting Friday when it met in closed session to discuss items related to a contract/employment agreement, hiring an independe...
The South Central Dakota Regional Council Executive Board may have violated the state Open Meetings Act during a special meeting Friday when it met in closed session to discuss items related to a contract/employment agreement, hiring an independent investigator and the board’s May 20 closed session with attorney Tim Ottmar.
With members Kim Lees and Mary Hager participating by phone, the executive board went into closed session after President Joe Neis read a motion to go into executive session under North Dakota Century Code 44-04-19. On the meeting agenda, it is noted that the meeting was to be “closed for executive session per NDCC 44-04-19 (attorney work product, negotiations and consultations).”
The Sun has filed a request with the North Dakota Attorney General’s Office for an opinion on whether the executive board violated the state Open Meeting Act at the May 20 meeting.
Jack McDonald, an attorney who consults for the North Dakota Newspaper Association, said regarding a contract/employment agreement with a planner, the executive session may have been OK as long as the executive board discussed negotiation of the contract during the session.
“If they were just talking about the contract, if they said ‘here is a contract, let’s offer it him,’ that’s not a negotiation,” he said.
After the board came back into open session Friday, it approved entering into negotiations for an employment agreement with Daniel Schwartz. Schwartz had been working as a regional planner for the Regional Council updating the Stutsman County Multi-Hazard Mitigation Plan when he was fired May 18 by Deb Kantrud, the Regional Council executive director. At the executive board’s May 20 meeting, Jerry Bergquist, Stutsman County emergency manager, asked the board to consider hiring Schwartz back on a contract basis so he could complete the county’s plan.
Neis said at the board’s meeting Friday that executive board member Mike Metcalf has been negotiating with Schwartz to complete the contract.
The other two items discussed in the closed session, hiring an independent investigator and the board’s executive session on May 20, should not have been discussed in a closed session, McDonald said.
On hiring an independent investigator, McDonald said “That’s just a discussion of hiring somebody, that’s not subject to a closed meeting.”
The executive board approved hiring an independent investigator after it came back into open session Friday to look into the claims of Alison Kassian, who claims she was wrongfully fired by Kantrud on May 18. Neis said he will take the lead in hiring the investigator.
The executive board also approved the minutes from the closed portion of the May 20 meeting, with Neis stating the minutes will not be released to the public at this time. Neis said the executive board will respond to questions sent by the North Dakota Attorney General’s Office about the May 20 executive session and to the allegations made by The Sun that the board didn’t follow proper procedure in closing the meeting for a discussion about personnel issues.
“We feel that we probably are not in violation after consulting with our attorney,” Neis said. “That we probably didn’t come up and say, you know, (North Dakota Century Code) 44-04-19, but we’re dealing with personnel matters, so we’re going to respond to that to the attorney general.”
McDonald said there is no provision under the state’s Open Meetings Act that allows a public body to go into executive session to discuss personnel matters.
“That is a common misconception,” he said.
Sun reporter Chris Olson can be reached at 701-952-8454 or by email at colson@ jamestownsun.com