City Council violates open meetings law
Minot’s City Council has been found in violation of the state’s open meetings law. Attorney General Wayne Stenehjem issued that opinion in response to a request from citizen Rob Port.
The Minot City Council held a special meeting, which they referred to as an “executive retreat,” in Washburn on July 31-Aug. 1. Although no final decisions were made at the retreat, Stenehjem concluded that the meeting should have been accessible to the public to comply with North Dakota’s open meetings law.
Stenehjem said that while the Minot City Council may have had reasons to hold a meeting in Washburn, approximately 70 miles south of Minot, “no options were provided for Minot citizens to access the meeting remotely and no transportation aids were set up or offered.”
The city maintained the Washburn meeting was arranged to limit City Council members’ distractions from everyday life. Stenehjem responded that the “countervailing and weighty consideration must be the right of the citizens to attend the meeting” and that the city’s reasoning does not “outweigh the potential inconvenience and expense for Minot citizens whose business it is the Council conducts”. He further stated that the “meeting was inaccessible to the public and therefore violated open meetings law.”
The attorney general’s Oct. 17 ruling gave the City of Minot seven days to make minutes of the meeting available free of charge to anyone requesting them and warned that failure to do so “may also result in personal liability for the person or persons responsible for the noncompliance.”
– Kim Fundingsland
City of Minot discouraged by precedent on open meeting violation
The City of Minot is discouraged with an opinion issued Thursday by Attorney General Wayne Stenehjem where he determined that the City violated North Dakota open meeting laws by holding a City Council retreat outside city limits.
“Today’s Attorney General opinion sets a precedent in the state because nowhere in state law does it say a municipality cannot have a meeting outside its jurisdiction,” Minot Mayor Shaun Sipma said. “It was never our intention to hold a City meeting that was inaccessible to the public, and we believed we were operating in compliance with the open meeting laws. We have every intention of fully complying with the Attorney General’s corrective measures.”
Sipma said that, as the City included in its response to the Attorney General, the intent of the two-day meeting held July 31-Aug 1 in Washburn was to allow Council members and the City Manager to focus on the agenda and on team-building, bonding, and brainstorming away from the normal daily distractions and interruptions. The Washburn location was selected because it was easily accessible and within approximately an hour’s drive from Minot, Sipma said.