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Published May 02 2012

Forum editorial: Taking PR lessons from Darth Vader

The Fargo-Moorhead Diversion Authority seems to channel Darth Vader when it comes to public relations. The authority’s decision to approve of, but not formally participate in, something called an Executive Leadership Council smells of the arrogance and sneakiness of the reviled “Stars Wars” villain.

The difference, of course, is that Vader didn’t give a rat’s fanny about public relations. After all, he had storm troopers. The members of the Diversion Authority don’t have the luxury of kissing off public relations; and the storm troopers in this drama are an increasingly active and informed cadre of project opponents.

So what do diversion project officials do? They attempt to circumvent North Dakota’s open meetings law by bending the law to the breaking point. They are relying on a legal interpretation (are they paying for this stuff?) that in all likelihood will not stand up to scrutiny by the state’s attorney general. They have stamped their imprimatur on a “leadership council” that intends to keep public and press out – a group comprised of local public officials and three representatives of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. The Forum is requesting an AG’s opinion.

None of this goes to the merits of the diversion. As stated in this space several times, the project is the linchpin of an overall Fargo-Moorhead permanent flood protection program. The urban district cannot achieve a necessary level of protection without the diversion.

That being said, it makes no sense for the authority – officially or not – to hand project opponents a club and, in effect, invite them to beat ’em up-side the head. Many project opponents have been in full-blown conspiracy theory mode for months, and the meet-in-the-dark “leadership council” feeds their tin-foil hat suspicions.

The authority should do one of two things: Keep the council intact, but announce and open its meetings; or disband it. Either option will avoid embarrassment when the attorney general declares the council violates the state’s open meetings law.

Forum editorials represent the opinion of Forum management and the newspaper’s Editorial Board.