Ward County needs better communication, transparency

Just last week, a Minot Daily News reporter attempted to attend an open public meeting of the Ward County Planning Commission. The 7 p.m. meeting at the Ward County administration building was already underway. Instead of free access to the open meeting, the reporter was instead greeted with two locked exterior doors. There was no other available access.

An attorney who represents Minot Daily News and other news outlets on such issues assures MDN that free access to public meetings includes entrance into the building in which the meeting is taking place. That access is a legal requirement.

One can only assume that this isn’t a first. This isn’t to suggest that there was any conspiracy to keep late-comers from attending the meeting or to impede public access. More likely it would seem, the building was locked by an employee when the offices inside and the Ward County Library closed for the day. It makes sense as a security precaution.

According to the attorney consulted, it happens in other places but usually there is someone available to open a locked door when a public meeting is underway. That wasn’t an option here last week.

Without open access to public meetings – whenever one wishes to attend – there is a problem with transparency, or the perception of there being a problem with transparency.

Additionally on more than one occasion, Ward County has failed to publish notices of meetings that are open to the public, which is also a legal requirement. Again, this doesn’t mean there is anything questionable taking place at such meetings. Rather, it is more likely to have been overlooked or could have taken place during a shift in staff responsibilities, during training of a new employee, etc.

An earlier Ward County Planning Commission meeting had been noticed properly, but there wasn’t a quorum. However the meeting continued for considerable time with a present quorum of the county commission (two of whom were audience members, not members of the planning commission) dominating the discussion.

The questions are transparency and communicating as required with county residents and interested parties. By contrast the City of Minot does a very good job at making sure meetings are posted as per requirement.

Government transparency and communication go a long way toward inspiring trust and confidence in the minds of the public.

Maybe there is a lesson to be learned here.