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Patrick Springer, Published March 13 2013

AG: Diversion 'leadership council' did not violate law

FARGO – A leadership council formed to funnel input from local governments to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers did not violate North Dakota laws when it held a meeting without first giving public notice.

That was the conclusion in a legal opinion issued Wednesday by Attorney General Wayne Stenehjem.

The Forum asked the attorney general for an opinion after a reporter learned of a meeting the council held May 3. Although official notices were not sent out, the meeting was opened to news reporters when they asked to attend.

Stenehjem said the leadership council was formed by the federal Corps of Engineers, which is not subject to North Dakota open meetings laws. The council is one of several informal working groups the Diversion Authority has unofficially endorsed to work on the $1.8 billion Red River flood-control diversion.

State law requires government boards and any subcommittees to hold meetings in public.

Although Darrell Vanyo, a Cass County commissioner, and Fargo Mayor Dennis Walaker were members of the leadership council, their role was advisory, and the council is not a “governing body,” Stenehjem concluded.

Vanyo and Walaker attended the May 3 meeting that gave rise to the legal question.

Because the Diversion Authority Board did not delegate authority to the committee, it did not violate North Dakota’s open meetings law when the two officials attended the Army Corps of Engineers Leadership Council meeting without providing public notice, Stenehjem wrote.

At the time the question arose, Cass County Administrator Keith Berndt wrote in an email to The Forum:

“While we do not believe this meeting is required to be an open meeting by North Dakota statute, we remain committed to conducting business in an open and transparent environment.”

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Readers can reach Forum reporter Patrick Springer at (701) 241-5522